PORTLAND – When Kirsten Clark shared with her coaches what she had already been thinking, it became official.

Three weeks ago, Clark informed her coaches while in Italy that she would retire after this ski racing season was over. It’s something she had contemplated for more than a year, but telling her coaches sealed the deal in her mind.

“I didn’t have any regrets or nervousness going in and telling them,” the Raymond native said. “I had known in my mind that this was my last year, and when I finally told other people, that’s when it became the reality.”

Clark, 29, revealed it to the public Monday, announcing her upcoming retirement at a news conference in Portland. Because of a recent crash, Clark isn’t sure that she can end her career at the U.S. Nationals later this month in Alaska.

She would join fellow Mainers Bump Heldman (Auburn), Ben Manter (Vassalboro) and Sam Sweetser (Cumberland) if she decides to race at the Alyeska Resort.

“I’d like to go up to Nationals and race my last race up there, but we’ll see and make that call this weekend, once I see how my body feels,” she said.

A member of the U.S. Ski Team for 13 years, Clark competed in three Olympics. After years of battling injuries, Clark decided the time was right to step away.

“I don’t think there was one specific thing,” Clark said about what prompted her decision. “After 13 years of traveling and living out of a suitcase, it kind of reaches that point where it’s enough. And physically on my body, my knee plays a factor as far as my health and wanting to be healthy for the remaining part of my life.”

Clark, who tore ligaments in both knees and broke her right wrist in a crash in 2004, says she might have called it a career last year, but wanted to give it her best one more time.

“I think if I didn’t have my staph infection (in the fall of 2005), I think I probably would have been finished with ski racing last year,” said Clark, the only female to win four straight U.S. downhill championships. “I really wanted to go into a season 100 percent healthy. I had an idea that this would be my last year. As the winter progressed and the traveling, I came to the realization that my time had come and it was time to be done.”

Her best finish on the World Cup circuit this year was eighth in a downhill in Italy earlier this month. Clark posted six top-15 results and finished 21st in the downhill standings, where emerging U.S. stars Julia Mancuso and Lyndsey Kildow placed 2-3.

Clark thanked her family, friends and supporters for being there during “an incredible journey.” She said she’d cherish the memories, both good and bad, including her first World Cup win in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2001; her silver medal in the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003; her third place in Norway in 2003 that confirmed her third-place ranking in the overall downhill standings; her U.S. National titles, including last year at Sugarloaf; her crash in Haus in 2004 and her recovery from it and her infection in 2005.

“It is amazing to think this all started out when I was chasing my older brother down the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain when I was just a young tike,” said Clark, a graduate of Carrabassett Valley Academy.

Clark will continued to do promotions for her sponsor, T.D. Banknorth, joining a roster that includes Ray Bourque, Rico Petrocelli, Troy Brown and Joan Benoit Samuelsson. Beyond that, Clark says she’d like to expand her Maine conditioning camps. She enjoys working with young athletes and teaching them physical training and nutrition.

“I know the time is now to be finished with ski racing, and I’m definitely looking forward to what the future has to offer,” said Clark, who currently lives in California with her husband, Andreas Rickenbach, but would like to return to Maine more regularly in the future.

In the meantime, she has tried to savor every last bit of her career. It was hard to walk away, but knowing it was the right decision has allowed her to take in everything as the season progressed.

“It was definitely bittersweet,” said Clark. “I had wished and hoped my results would have been a little better this year. I’m definitely disappointed in that regard, but I enjoyed it. Once you reach that decision that it’s going to be your last year, I’m just enjoying the time and being out there and really having fun and enjoying every moment.”

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