“We better leave home at 5:00 AM at the latest.” Those words were stuck in my head. I couldn’t believe we were going to see the Ladies Olympic Downhill, but I also couldn’t believe we would have to leave home at 5:00 AM.
Monday, February 11
I managed to roll out of bed pretty easily and get on my way. I was tired. As I was making my way up Provo Canyon, I slipped U2 into the CD player–stoked to be going to an Olympic Downhill.
Over and over, I kept reminding myself outloud:
“I’m going to an Olympic Downhill! I’m going to an Olympic Downhill! I’M GOING TO AN OLYMPIC DOWNHILL!”
I couldn’t believe I was driving to Snowbasin Resort to see the best women skiers in the world compete on the world’s biggest stage. The 2002 Olympic Winter Games had been marred by scandal and security woes, but I didn’t care. I was actually going to my first Olympic event and it was the Ladies Downhill!
After a short pitstop for an Egg McMuffin breakfast, I made my way to Park City to pick up Kendall and Cynthia Card.
We arrived at the parking lot and made our way to the security checkpoint–fully prepared for the much publicized long wait. Almost to the front, Kendall realized he had a large pocket-knife in his pocket! Someone was bound to pull a bonehead move and it happened to be Kendall. He quickly made his way back to the car and back through the checkpoint.
Cynthia promptly told Kendall, “That’s leverage for a long time.”
We made it to the venue and I couldn’t believe the finish for the Men’s Downhill! What an awesome finish: A drop into a an immediate left-turn across a double fall-line into a sweeping right-hander, then a tuck to the finish. Amazing!
The Ladies finish was a bit less dramatic, but exciting enough. They were to come into sight off a roller giving them 100+ feet of air, then drag race to the finish at over 80 mph. I could dig it.
Unfortunately, the winds at the top of the course wouldn’t cooperate. Postponed to 11:00 AM, then to 12:00 PM, then postponed to the next day, February 12.
Tuesday, February 12
Lets try this again. Up at 5:00 AM, to Snowbasin, through security, on the bus, to our seats, only to wait… again! WIND DELAY! What were they waiting for? Gimme a break! At this rate, we’ll have a race in June!
Delayed to 11:00 AM, then to 12:00 PM. Finally, at 12:10 PM, we had a race. The scoreboard read “Camera on Course”. Then 5 forerunners from the US Development Squad lit up the hill as we saw our first action in over 24 hours.
Unbelievable… we were going to see an Olympic Downhill afterall. We were going to see Picabo Street’s final attempt at gold, her final goodbye to the sport for which she has sacrificed everything. A final goodbye to the hometown crowd.
For some reason, Picabo had been moved from a #2 start on Monday to a #26 for today’s race. I’m not sure what the particulars were, but this decision would ultimately become a factor in her inability to medal.
As more and more racers carved up the Wildflower Downhill Course, the slower it got. It was warm and the sun was beating down on the course, causing vastly different conditions from the summit to the base.
After her run, Picabo stood in 15th position. As it turned out, she would end the day placing 16th with the best Americans finishing 11th and 12th.
We all wanted Picabo to pull a miracle finish, to win a medal in the USA, for the USA, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was, however, a fitting farewell for arguably the best-known female skier this country has ever seen. Definitely the most memorable. Afterall, who can forget a name like Picabo Street.
An emotional Picabo Street slowly made her way out of the finish area, waving at the appreciative crowd. She was finished. As she made her farewells to the media, her coaches, teammates and the crowd we couldn’t help but feel saddened that it just wasn’t meant to be.
In the end, Carole Montillet of France took the gold with Isolde Kostner of Italy taking the silver and Renate Goetschl of Austria taking the bronze.
We took home a piece of history from the Downhill that day… Picabo Street’s last official international ski race. Goodbye Picabo, you made us proud!