It was a day of highs and lows for World Cup skiers with gold-medal ties to Utah.
Picabo Street fell and broke her leg during the final World Cup downhill in Crans Montana, Switzerland. The injury could put an end to her downhill racing career and her hopes for 2002.The spill forced organizers to call off the race. The cancellation of the downhill and Friday's super-G gave the overall World Cup title to Katja Seizinger of Germany - capping a season in which she won two Olympic golds and scored eight World Cup victories.
Nikki Stone, meanwhile, despite suffering from severe back pains, won the overall World Cup aerial title and with it the overall World Cup freestyle title in the final event in Altenmarkt, Austria. This, too, could mean the end of World Cup events for Stone.
In a telephone interview with the Deseret News on Friday, Stone said her back problems have been aggravated by a nonstop schedule of World Cup events and personal appearances since winning her Olympic gold medal last month.
"At this point I'm not sure if I will continue. Now that the season is over I'm going to rest for a few months and then decide if I'm going to hang up the skis or not," she said.
Plagued by back problems a year ago, Stone finished the World Cup season a disappointing 10th. This year she said she was determined to improve.
"But, if you'd told me last year I was going to have this kind of a year, I never, not ever, would have believed you. It has been unbelievable. First the gold medal in the Olympics and now this," she said.
"Winning this is definitely exciting, but I think for me the highpoint was the Olympics. I don't think one title was any harder to get than the other. Both were hard in different ways. There's just so much more pressure with the Olympics."
There was an opportunity for her to let up on her schedule after the Olympics. And, she admitted, she thought about it.
"Then it struck me that after the Olympics I was still in first place in World Cup standings. All I wanted to do was to do well this year, and there I was in first, so I decided to go for it," she added.
Two weeks ago she began to suffer from recurring back pains. Friday, after her first jump, a full-double-full (a full twist on the first flip and two flips on the second), the back pains increased.
"After I landed I couldn't straighten up; it hurt too badly. But I had to jump. I couldn't just walk away. I decided to do an easier jump and try for a softer landing. It hurt a lot. I just had to gut it out and let adrenaline take over," she said.
Her jump, a full-full (two twists with a single flip with each) earned her second place, which was good enough to clinch the overall aerial title and put her in position to be selected as the overall freestyle winner. The overall winner is selected by a committee looking at the best freestyle skier from the three events - aerials, moguls and ballet.
Now that the season has ended and Stone has completed her education at the University of Utah, she plans on returning to Salt Lake City to rest and recover.
And, if she decides to leave the sport, she would like to possibly move to the sidelines to work as a TV commentator like her fellow freestyler - Trace Worthington.
The top 10 from both the men's and women's aerial competition are invited to jump in the final World Cup event.
Winning the women's aerials was Christi Marshall of Australia.
Street, who won the Olympic Super G, had come back less than six months ago from a serious knee injury to score her victory in Nagano.
In Friday's race, she appeared to lose her balance at the top of the course and skidded into the protective netting on the side of the course. She then grabbed her left leg and screamed.
Grimacing in pain, the American skier was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Sion, where a doctor said she had fractured her left femur in several places. It was her left knee that was injured last year and sidelined her until earlier this season.
Street underwent a nearly three-hour operation to set her femur bone and secure it with a metal plate screwed into the bone, and doctors pronounced it a success, said Patrick Ravussin Patrick Ravussin, chief anesthesiologist at the Hospital de Champsec in Sion.
Street's U.S. coach and doctor decided on surgery after consulting specialists at the hospital, he said.
Asked how long Street would need to get back on her skis, Ravussin said only "many months."
Street, since her recovery from the knee injury, made no secret of her concern about being injured again.
After winning the gold medal in the super-G at Nagano, Street skied an uncharacteristically cautious race in the downhill, her best event. She said she skiied to avoid another injury.
"I just didn't want to risk anything," she said after finishing sixth. "I've hit the fence too many times this year. I didn't want to do it again today."
Street had watched Renate Goetschl, who started the Olympic downhill two skiers before her, ski off the course after a fall. That held up Street's run and gave her time to think.
"I was nervous that she got hurt, because I just hate injuries," Street said.
Today's downhill was called off shortly after Street was airlifted off the course. Officials said there would not be time to restart it.
Gian Franco Kasper, general secretary of the International Ski Federation, said he believed Street fell because she "made a mistake" and not because of the course conditions.
She came off a jump near the top of the course, lost her balance and leaned too far back. As she landed the jump she tried to move herself back into position but couldn't. She then skidded into the netting.
Kasper said Street's crash resembled the one she took in Vail, Colo., at the start of 1996 that forced her to miss nearly all of last season and the start of this season.
The downhill race had been rescheduled repeatedly for two days to finally begin when fog lifted this afternoon. The men's race went off without crashes; then the women started.