I was pretty close in the prediction. I just got the gender wrong. I have four boys and I help them up. But they all like skiing. If they want to do it, I’m cool with it. I’m just going to put everything out there and let them decide. – Picabo Street
KEARNS — The story on Picabo Street really hasn’t changed, even after 14 years. Her hair is still a rich auburn cascade, her words as quick and graceful as a silent downhill run.
She has four kids now, ranging from 10 to 2. It has been 12 years since her final race at the 2002 Olympics, and 14 since I asked in an interview what she’d be doing in 10 years. She said she’d be “on a ski hill, picking some little kid up, telling her to get back up … I don’t see much more than that.”
On Friday she was at the Utah Olympic Oval, as a spokesperson for Liberty Mutual Insurance. But she was also there as an unofficial spokesperson for families, skiing and seizing the day.
In other words, she was doing what she expected to be doing in her post-career life.
“I was pretty close in the prediction,” she said. “I just got the gender wrong. I have four boys and I help them up. But they all like skiing. If they want to do it, I’m cool with it. I’m just going to put everything out there and let them decide. Maybe they’re not athletic enough or maybe they’re athletic but not competitive. Either way is fine. I’m a sideline mom now. I’ll be there.”
A day earlier, Street was back at her favorite place, Park City Mountain Resort, doing what she was 14 years ago when I was asked if I wanted to ski with her before conducting an interview.
I was no more inclined to take up the offer then than now.
But neither time did that detract from the interview. Street is one of those identities that never fades. Her success in skiing, including a pair of Olympic medals and World Cup season titles, has been replaced by Picabo the brand. She has appeared on TV as a commentator, in commercials and reality programs, and is in the National Ski Hall of Fame.
Naturally, her kids are unimpressed.
“They know about me,” she said, “but to them, I’m just the mom in a ponytail and sweat pants.”
If the kids aren’t impressed, the public is. As winter sports fans milled about outside the Oval on Friday, readying for the U.S. Speedskating Olympic Trials, Street posed with anyone who asked, exchanging pleasantries and dispensing hugs.
“That little boy,” she said, pointing to a family walking away, “he says he’s a little writer.”
I asked if she couldn’t have steered him into a more reputable profession.
“He says he’s going to write a book and come back and show me,” she said.
Two young women came up to talk, and Street handed them her Olympic medals to inspect.
“Let’s get everyone over here,” she said, gathering one family for a snapshot.
While many athletes struggle with retirement, that wasn’t the case for Street. After breaking her femur and tearing ligaments in a gruesome crash in 1998, she set her sights on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake. Though she finished just 16th in the downhill at Snowbasin, she claims no regrets.
“To tell you the truth, I think I had set myself for qualifying, and after that, that was it. I had done it. I hadn’t reset myself for the gold,” she said. “But I don’t think it would have made a difference in my life, whatever color medal I might have won. I got to get back on the horse (after the injury) and I got to compete at home, with the home crowd. It couldn’t have been better.”
When she finished her final run, slowed by messy conditions, she said to Austria’s Michalea Dorfmeister that her career was finished.
“I’m done,” Street said. “This is it.”
But clearly there was more. When your name is Picabo, there is no fading into anonymity. She went on to do numerous endorsements, give motivational speeches, spearhead charitable projects and work a show called "Stars Earn Stripes." Her purpose this week was to help get American athletes and fans psyched up for the 2014 Olympics.
I said she seemed to feel a responsibility for being the practically perfect ski ambassador.
“I always have,” she said. “But I am fine with it, because I’ve always been myself. It’s the unvarnished, raw me. I don’t have to act because I’ve always kept my nose clean. I’ve always been up front about who I am. I’ve always been me.”
Even when it was purely a personal choice, she put her responsibility first. She once considered a diamond nose stud but decided against it, fearing it would influence small children.
I asked the part-time Park City resident the same question I did in 2000: what she would be doing in 10 years. She said she expects to be preparing to be an empty nester, but also to “be doing something good" and encouraging people to aim high.
No longer a skiing superstar, she’s now a wife, mother and spectator.
Other than that, I couldn’t see a thing about Picabo that had changed.
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