Picabo street was cruising a two-lane road two summers ago outside Sun River, Ore., cranking up the stereo past Megadeth and yakking over the tunes with her companion, who was sunk low in the passenger seat. Now Street concedes that maybe a taillight was out and maybe she was hugging the yellow line a little too tightly; the professional opinion of the cop who pulled her over was a bit firmer on both matters.
At least until he saw her license.
The rest of America didn't know Picabo Street in 1993—she hadn't yet won an Olympic silver medal or left all the Heidis at the lift line on the World Cup circuit or played peekaboo with Elmo on Sesame Street—but the policeman was sort of an athlete himself, and, well, that name is as unmistakable as a two-by-four across the brow.
"He's apologizing, excusing himself for stopping us, saying he didn't know it was me," Street says. "I told him, 'Hey, if you think I'm a big deal....' Then Bert leaned forward from his seat."
(Your Honor, let the record show it was not Bert as in "Bert and Ernie" but Bert as in Alberto Tomba.)
"Bert pulled out his police badge"—Tomba holds the rank of an honorary carabiniere—"and the cop is like, 'Uh, you can probably get a fuse for that light at (tm) the gas station.' "
Two years ago it took a sports-minded cop to recognize her, but now busboys giggle when she walks into a restaurant. Picabo says clerks in five stores at a suburban Portland mall recognized her before she whipped out the plastic, which isn't bad for a woman who makes her living wearing a helmet.
Maybe a small Picaboboom is not on the same scale as full-throated Tombamania, but as the most dynamic ski racers in the world Street and Tomba have become cosmic road buddies, joyriding to places only they can travel, a trip of nods and winks. Like Palmer and Nicklaus or Williams and DiMaggio, this is a club of two, and the two are very much alike—playful, visceral, loud, stubborn and pushed by an uncommon will to get down a mountain. While Tomba was winning 11 slalom and giant slalom races and taking the overall World Cup title last season, Street triumphed in six of nine downhills to become the first American to win the downhill season title. Tomba has owned skiing since 1987, while Street has had only one meteoric year, but together they have reduced the other skiers of this generation—the technically gifted Katja Seizinger of Germany, the steely Hilary Lindh of the U.S., the versatile Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway, even the legendary Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg—to mere bozos on the bus. "Like Tomba," says Paul Major, the U.S. Alpine vice president of athletics, "Picabo can devastate a field."
She has. In Are, Sweden, last February, Seizinger, winner of nine World Cup downhills over the previous three years, told Street, "You're unbeatable." In Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, two weeks later, French skier Nathalie Bouvier sidled up and said, "If you have a secret, tell me."
"I don't have a secret," Street replied.