With the Winter Olympic Games less than a month away, Team USA is still reeling from Lindsey Vonn's latest injury, which will keep her from competing in Sochi, Russia. Her ability—and personality—will be missed, for sure, says skiing legend and two-time Olympic medalist Picabo Street, but there is plenty to look forward to next month.
"I think a lot of the pressure goes to Bode (Miller) and Ted (Ligety) to really prevail—those are the 'go-tos'" she said Tuesday by telephone from New York. "A lot of people are shifting their hopes to Mikaela Shiffrin, and I think she's probably ready. She's been gearing up. (Julia) Mancuso is a big-eventer, an a lot of people are waiting for her to break through."
For Street, who won gold in Nagano, Japan in 1998 after scoring silver in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Vonn's absence can be an opportunity.
"Obviously, Lindsey is a big attraction to the sport, and without her it's a different look," she added. "But as she has said herself, we encourage everyone to look at the athletes that are there, and they now have an opportunity to step up into the limelight themselves. She'd rather there be two or three other great racers, not just her. I think it probably saddens her the most to not be on the team and helping those girls be their best."
Like many elite skiers, Street is familiar with the devastating injuries like those that have felled Vonn's chances in Sochi. Street recovered enough from a crash not long after her Super G win in Nagano to compete again in the 2002 games, though she didn't medal.
Street believes Vonn will come back, and that the climb back is mental as well as physical.
"Before an injury, ignorance is bliss. You think you are invincible," she explained. "When you are first injured, the rehab is pretty much all physical, you put the mental and emotional on idle. Then as you move forward, you see how your body responds, and as it does, you can gain more confidence."
Street also feels that Vonn's success at the highest levels will help her recovery.
"For me, I had been in the World Cup finals when I got hurt, and I wanted to get back there to gauge my comeback," she added. "I think it's easier for an elite athlete—we are abusive on ourselves, we keep pushing, like, 'I have an injury, but who cares—I'm playing through it.'"
In addition to her close association with Team USA, Street, now a mother of four young boys, is well known for her dedication to causes. She represented "Hiring Our Heroes" in her appearance on the NBC television program Stars Earn Stripes in 2012, and her latest effort is on behalf of Liberty Mutual's partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in encouraging sportsmanship through its “Top 10 Responsible Sports Moments” of 2013 program.
Though "ski moms" may not rival their soccer and baseball counterparts in sometimes questionable sideline behavior—"in skiing, they don't sit outside as long; at some point you have to go in and get hot chocolate", she noted—Street is keenly aware of the issue and thinks the program is an important step.
"We as parents are where are children learn how to behave," she said. "I'm competitive—I like to win, but there is a responsibility that comes with that. My kids are little—there's a moment where they are playing, having a good time, learning how to be decent people. I'm so proud to be a part of the Liberty Mutual Top 10 Responsible Sports Moments because they show the way it needs to be done."
The list, which parents and fans can view at ResponsibleSports.com, includes some of the moments that have gained some notice, such as New Haven, Conn. high school junior Kayla Samuel stopping to help an injured fellow cross country runner cross the finish line, to less heralded displays of sportsmanship, like 14-year-old Drew Rippingham of Reno, Nev., who ran beside his teammate with Down syndrome all season.
"The takeaway from these and the thousands of other nominations we received is that there are incredible moments happening all over the country," noted Street, who was on the committee that selected the winners. "You see these moments and know it's OK to have tears of joy."
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.
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