Is there another miracle in Picabo Street's future?
There was one last month, when she won the Olympic super-G gold medal to complete a 14-month come-back from reconstruction of her left knee.Another will be needed if she's to compete in the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships at Vail, Colo. On Saturday, Street awoke with a plate and 8-10 screws holding together her broken left leg, the product of a crash in season-ending downhill race the day before.
"She's actually doing very fine," Herwig Demschar, coach of the U.S. women's ski team, said Saturday from Crans-Montana, Switzerland. "She's doing better than I expected.
"The human mind is so strong, you never underestimate what it can do," he said. "Picabo is very strong-minded. She must have a switch somewhere where she can turn it on and then turn it off.
"It's true she was trying to cheer me up. As coaches, you want to see your athletes have success, not see them crash."
Street, 26, got into trouble soon after she skied past Demschar, who was standing alongside the course on Friday.
"She thinks she made a mistake. She was trying to recover, and it didn't work out," Demschar said. "It happens in downhill. It's not a safe sport, everybody knows this. It's much like Indy-car racing.
"When she landed, she was trying to make a quick turn and she was leaning inside. These are things you cannot do. We call it pilot error.
"This wasn't nearly as bad a crash as the one she had in Sweden" just before the Olympics, when a ski broke free from the binding and she slammed down on the track before flying into the safety fence. On that occasion, she walked away with bruises and a slight concussion. On Saturday, the net caused the injury.
"It's a trampoline effect," Demschar said. "With these high safety fences, you can choose to go into a rock pile or into a tree or into the safety fence. It's by far the best thing to do, but there's still a risk."
The crash realized Street's worst fear, that of another injury. She admitted she skied cautiously in the Olympic downhill a few days after winning the super-G, saying she thought it wiser to get down the course in one piece than pile up as did some of the racers who went before her. She finished sixth.
The question of caution was addressed by Demschar before the Crans-Montana finals.
"We had a long meeting last week about how she feels about skiing, and it was clear it was her opinion to go full out," he said. "The last race is important because you want to position yourself on the World Cup start list for next season, and this is what we wanted to do. She worked very hard the last four days, training and testing skis. She was doing a lot of runs.
"In the race, she wasn't hesitant. She was going all out."
Dr. Robert Scheinberg of Dallas, traveling with the ski team, assisted on the three-hour operation on Street's leg and pronounced it a success.
"He was very happy with the way the whole thing went," Demschar said. "He was surprised with the cooperation of the Swiss doctors. They don't always let an outsider assist."
Scheinberg is an associate of U.S. Ski Team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman, who repaired Street's damaged left knee in December 1996 and then oversaw her rehabilitation. He'll be the man again as Street attempts another comeback.
"We think it's going to be 6-9 months. It's going to be tough," Demschar said. "It's the same thing she went through this year. We'll see if she's up to it."