SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA, Italy Lindsey Kildow wants to be the next Picabo Street.
Street is the only American female to win the World Cup downhill championship, taking the titles in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Kildow, who attended an autograph signing by Street when she was 10 years old, has emulated the Olympic gold medalist ever since.
''I want to be the next Chapstick girl,'' Kildow said, referring to one of Street's old sponsors.
With one World Cup victory and four top-three finishes this season including a second Thursday that gave her the lead in the downhill standings she's well on her way.
Her progress has been noted since summer camp in Chile by Alex Hoedlmoser, her coach with the U.S. ski team.
''We could see she was skiing so much better,'' he said. ''We knew it was coming and her confidence was building.''
Kildow and Bode Miller, the overall leader on the men's side, have injected considerable excitement into the U.S. effort this season.
''I'm hoping that someday people will recognize me in the States, like they do with Bode now,'' Kildow said.
Kildow, who won the opening downhill on Dec. 3 in Lake Louise, Alberta, reclaimed the points lead by finishing second Thursday to Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister. German Hilde Gerg finished third, losing the leader's bib to Kildow.
''It's important. It makes everyone know you've been winning and you're the one to beat,'' Kildow said of the bib. ''It's something to keep and frame at home. I've only worn it once before, but hopefully it will become more of a usual thing.''
On Friday, Kildow will have chance in another downhill on the Deborah Compagnoni course. The skier from Vail, Colo., finished 0.40 seconds behind Dorfmeister, who got her 18th career victory with a time of 1 minute, 41.66 seconds on the 1.6-mile course. Gerg, who won the season's previous downhill, was third, 0.13 seconds behind Kildow.
The American has 225 points in the downhill standings, leading Gerg by five. Kildow is sixth in the overall standings, far behind leader Tanja Poutiainen of Finland, who does not compete in the downhill.
Dorfmeister was pleased to see the 20-year-old Kildow on the podium again.
''It's good because last year I didn't see many young girls doing well.'' Dorfmeister said. ''It makes it a little bit fresher to have new faces on TV.''
Gerg said Kildow has shown she's one of the best this year.
Her maturity was in evidence Thursday, when Kildow overcame a mistake to finish second. She put too much pressure on a ski as she came out of the technical section in mid-race and lost valuable time.
''I'm glad I finished,'' she said. ''I don't know if I would have a year ago.
''I was a little nervous before the race because we hadn't run downhill in a while and then we only had the one training run. I've never had just one run, always at least two, and it was strange because this is a new course for us.''
Americans did well Thursday in the first of two downhills relocated from weather-whipped Val d'Isere, France. Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was 10th; Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, was 12th; Jonna Mendes of Heavenly, Calif., was 19th, and Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif, was 22nd.
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