Picabo Street [DOWNHILL DESTROYER]
The Case: Street's been on a race-circuit tear for more than a decade. She collected a shiny silver disk at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 in the downhill, and a prettier gold one in Nagano in 1998 in the Super G. In between, she seasoned her résumé with back-to-back 1995 and 1996 World Cup titles, and a 1996 World Championship title. Add to that her playful name and spunky personality, and it's no wonder Street's the grande dame of downhill. The powerhouse physique and bullheaded confidence that put Street on the podium also helped her overcome a raft of potentially career-ending injuries, including a broken femur and three separate ACL tears. "She definitely has willpower," says former teammate Wendy Fisher. "A lot of people thought she'd never make it back." Street, 30, who claims to be in the best shape of her life, may nab her biggest Olympic victory yet this February, on her home slopes of Park City. If so, it will be a perfect ending to the finaland, she insists, finestseason of her racing career: "I feel like a horse that's been turned around and knows it's going back to the barn. All I want to do is run, run, run."
Second Opinion: "Over everybody else, she's got this mental component that sets her aside," says Jim Tracy, the U.S. women's Super G and Downhill coach. "You have to put her in a situation to excel, and she will."
Read All About It: Street's memoir, Picabo: Nothing to Hide, will be published this month (Contemporary Books).
Next Big Thing: Retirement, marriage (to former U.S. Ski Team technician John Mulligan), and starting a family. "Salt Lake City will be my last hurrah," says Street. "As soon as I'm done, I'm done."Lisa Anne Auerbach
Frode Grønvold [FREEHEEL PHENOM]
The Case: In the past two seasons on the international telly circuit, Norwegian Frode Grønvold has cracked his collarbone in three places, torn his rotator cuff, sprained his neck repeatedly, and withstood five brain-shaking concussions (quarterback Troy Aikman only had 10 in 12 seasons, the wuss). A serious beating to be sure, but it's the price Grønvold's willing to pay to wrench the Norwegian sport of telemarking from the bearded American hippies who co-opted it in the eighties and place it on the world stage alongside more widely accepted extreme sports. (OK, maybe he's too modest to conceive of such a scheme, but that's exactly what he's doing.) Credit the global shift to Grønvold's trademark get-low-and-get-back style, which lets him blitz the big-mountain steeps of Chamonix, Alaska, and Norway at eyeball-rattling speeds, and his ability to carve creative lines with a decidedly new-school flair. "There are so many freeriders who just choose a fast, aggressive line," says Grønvold, 23. "They don't see the playground in front of them." For Grønvold, of course, anything with powder and pitch is a playgroundincluding terrain parks and half-pipes, where he routinely launches gonzo air and sticks backwards landings. Well, most of the time. "I throw some sick shit," he says. "It usually hurts a bit."
Second Opinion: "Of all the skiers we've filmed," says Josh Murphy, producer of the recently released ski movie Unparalleled II: Free World, "Frode is far and away the fastest and the smoothest."
Why You Shouldn't Pigeonhole Him: Grønvold is multi-glissehe's gone huge in the pipe while locked into traditional alpine gear.
Next Big Thing: "My dream is to ski in the Himalaya, but I don't think I'm ready for it. I need some more climbing experience, and right now I try to do as little climbing as possible."Marc Peruzzi
Jamie Burge [HUCKING'S HIGH PRIESTESS]
Sure, the 24-year-old from Truckee, California, has won two North American Freeskiing Championships and torched the celluloid in snow-porn flicks like Butter and Empress, but being the first female hero of "gap jumps"photogenic hucks over roads, moving trains, and resort-snowcat tracksis Burge's trademark. To fully appreciate these superhero credentials, go join the photographers on the shoulder of one of her favorite Sierra highways in midwinter and watch as the five-foot-two powder keg hauls down the slope above the road, launches off a kicker she spent an hour manicuring with an avalanche shovel, calmly rolls into a full back flip over the asphalt, and rotates her skis earthward just in time to smoothly rail the pitch that drops down the other side. "I'm the token chick, which is fine by me," she says. "I've always felt like I could keep up with the guys no problem."Rob Story
WHEN 29-YEAR-OLD Chris Klug sets his snowboard on edge, 210 pounds of speeding bullet-train power barrels down an icy slope. His body is rock-solid and steady, cantilevered at an impossible angle just above the snow, whipping down serpentine racecourses at speeds of up to 70 mph. That's a rather striking contrast to the guy you'll meet off the snowa lantern-jawed, low-key, all-American guy-next-door who inhabits his own time zone. "I call it Klug time," says Klug's personal trainer Bill Fabrocini. "It's about half an hour behind the rest of the world."
You might slow down and smell the hot wax, too, if you'd been through what Klug hasspecifically living with a rare, life-threatening liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis, which destroys the bile ducts, rendering the organ useless. After an anxious three years on a waiting list for a new liverrunning back Walter Payton, who also suffered from PSC, died waiting for the right matchKlug received a transplant in July 2000. As if simple recuperation weren't enough, a mere seven weeks later, with a badass scar that looked like a shark bite arcing across his midsection, Klug was back training on snow.
Timid at first, Klug, who lives in Aspen, Colorado, eventually carved his way into form and had one of his best seasons ever, taking first place in the Chevy Trucks U.S. Grand Prix Tour in December 2000. Even off the snow, Klug's thirst for insane speed hasn't diminished. "When we go mountain biking, we hit the downhill and this guy is nuts," says Fabrocini. "He lives for more speed. Even though his body's at risk, he still goes fast."
This was the Klug everyone remembered. Since first strapping a board to his moon boots with duct tape in 1983, Klug has flown down the groomed tracks faster than humans should be allowed to. At 15 he became the American overall junior champion; at 19 he went pro. Now, after 18 years in the sport, a decade on the World Cup circuit, four World Cup gold medals, and a sixth place in the 1998 Olympics, he's the American single-planker with the best shot at a spot atop the Park City podium come February. If he has his way, he'll not only cap his career by fulfilling a long-held dream, but go into the athletic record books as, in his words, the "first transplant gold medalist."Lisa Anne Auerbach
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