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SKIING / BOB LOCHNER

Street, Tomba Get Big Shot at Delivering

February 07, 1996|BOB LOCHNER

Picabo Street and Alberto Tomba, skiing's free spirits, will have to get serious starting this weekend, when the 1995 World Alpine Ski Championships open, a year late and many pesetas short.

The supposedly biennial event, a sort of mini-Olympics strictly for ski racers, was called off last winter when it failed to snow in the mountains of southern Spain. Now, everything is in its proper place at Sierra Nevada, including plenty of the white stuff.

The yearlong postponement resulted in lost revenue all around, but it also might have cost Street and Tomba chances at winning their first world championship gold medals.

At this time last year, both were unbeatable, Street in the women's downhill and Tomba in the men's slalom. They still are skiing well, of course, but so are several of their rivals.

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Last weekend at Val d'Isere, France, Street finished second in a downhill and fifth and 11th in two super-Gs as Katja Seizinger of Germany swept all three races to take the overall World Cup lead with 1,082 points, 191 more than runner-up Anita Wachter of Austria. Unruffled, Street said that puts Seizinger right where she wants her--as the woman to beat at Sierra Nevada.

"I don't want to be the favorite," said the 24-year-old Idaho native.

Earlier this season, Street was quoted by Ski Racing magazine as saying, "I'm not, like, feisty and hungry and up-tight like I used to be. I am hungry, of course, but it's not the same. I don't approach every day like 'Growl, growl, I gotta win today and beat everybody.' I don't have anything to prove anymore. . . .

"I really have to dig deep now to find a fire, to find a rage. You don't really have that much to aim for. Everyone is aiming at you and it makes it easy on them but I don't have that advantage anymore."

Perhaps Seizinger has given her back that edge, just in time.

Street, who won the World Cup downhill title last season, has two silver medals in previous major events--the World Championship combined at Morioka, Japan, in 1993 and the Olympic downhill at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

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Tomba, the defending World Cup overall champion, has won five Olympic medals--three gold and two silver--but his best performance in a world championships was the bronze he earned in the 1987 giant slalom at Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

The 29-year-old Italian has said repeatedly this season that his primary goal is to strike gold at Sierra Nevada, but he has failed to finish his last three races. After his most recent misadventure, in a slalom at Sestriere, Italy, he told the disappointed crowd, "I am sorry, but I will win in Spain."

Tomba has fallen to sixth in the World Cup standings, 358 points behind the leader, Lasse Kjus of Norway, who has 974. Gunther Mader of Austria is second with 803, followed by Michael Von Gruenigen of Switzerland with 738.

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The men will have one last warm-up Saturday in a giant slalom at Hinterstoder, Austria, before the World Championships open the next day. Tomba will then have plenty of time to practice his turns before competing in the giant slalom on Feb. 23 and the slalom on closing day, Feb. 25.

Street will race first in the super-G Monday, then in the downhill on Feb. 18. Americans with longshot chances for medals are Shannon Nobis in the super-G and Megan Gerety and Hilary Lindh in the downhill. Gerety was eighth and Lindh 14th in Saturday's downhill at Val d'Isere.

The year's delay has proven especially costly to the U.S. men's team. Last winter, three Americans had a real shot at medals in the downhill and super-G. Since then, 1994 Olympic downhill champion Tommy Moe has been unable to regain his form after having been injured in March; AJ Kitt has been lost for the season, and Kyle Rasmussen has been unimpressive.

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