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Speedskater Chris Witty Dreams of Winning at Salt Lake City - 2002-01-23

Chris Witty is one of the top long-track U.S. speedskaters for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. On top of that, she also competed for the United States in bicycle racing at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has more on Witty's amazing two-sport career in a report written by Josh Madden.

Chris Witty holds the American speedskating record in both the 500 and 1,000 meters and represented the USA at the Winter Olympics in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, and in 1998 at Nagano, Japan. That alone would put her at the Olympic forefront. But Witty is also an Olympic cyclist and was a member of the U.S. Track Cycling Team that raced in Sydney barely 16 months ago. She is just one of nine Americans ever to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

"Well, this is something that I have dreamed about my whole life and it is something that I love to do," she says. "And it is a great lifestyle, I mean if it wasn't for speedskating, if it wasn't for cycling, I wouldn't have been able to do the things that I have been able to do, you know, whether it is traveling, or competing."

The 26-year-old Witty was discovered by a club coach at a public skating competition in her native Wisconsin in 1985. She went on to become the only American to earn two Olympic medals in Nagano, winning the silver medal in the 1,000 meters and the bronze medal in the 1,500 meters. Witty said that her third place finish in the 1,500 meters is one of her proudest feats because most people gave her little chance to earn a medal.

This season, Witty skated the fastest time in both the 500 and 1,500 meters at U.S. Olympic qualifying trials. She had already qualified in the one-thousand meters.

Chris Witty had little competition from her countrywomen when she qualified for the 1998 Winter Olympics. However this year, Witty has a rival, who also happens to be her training partner. Jennifer Rodriguez has developed a friendship with Witty and actually performed better than Witty in the World Cup races early this season. Nonetheless, Witty said that it is better that she has a formidable opponent because both skaters push each other to train harder and skate faster.

"It's been really beneficial for me because I have been able to do a lot more endurance work which I think when it comes time to peak I'll have a lot of good work sort of in the bank that I can fall back on," says Chris.

Switching gears to her cycling career, Chris Witty is a two-time national champion in the 500 meters, taking the crown in both 1996 and 1998. She was an alternate for the U.S. cycling team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a year in which she also became the World Sprint overall champion. She qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and placed fifth in cycling's 500-meter time trial.

Witty believes that competing in the Salt Lake City Olympics in front of home fans will give her and her fellow-Americans in all sports, a big edge.

"I think our advantage is that we are going to have so much more support now because our country is really proud of being Americans and we are representing our country," she explains. "I mean we have the home field advantage but on top of that we are going to have a lot more support. And I don't think that is really going to put any more pressure on us. I mean we have support anyways and we are ready for it. We have been training for this for our whole lives."

Chris Witty has recently questioned her own training routine. She has been fighting mononucleosis and her results during the World Cup circuit have been poorer than expected. She has been living in Park City, Utah, near Salt Lake City, but it's at an elevation of 2100 meters. So she wonders whether she recovers as well at such a high altitude. But she had wanted to live there to better adapt to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, which at 1425 meters is the world's highest enclosed speedskating oval.

Her coach, 1988 Olympian Tom Cushman, has been having Witty take heavy doses of iron to help her with her fatique, but the Salt Lake Games are fast approaching.

"We have a great friendship along with a coach-skater relationship. So, I think that helped kind of turn things around and focus me back on skating and what I needed to focus on," he says.

Off the ice, Chris Witty is what you would call a free-spirit. She has a pierced nose, a pierced navel, a tattoo on her belly, loves playing rock music on her electric bass and wants to purchase a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. She put that last item on hold after learning that an Italian skater suffered a career-ending injury after a motorcycle accident. Witty held back her daring mentality and bought a Porsche.

Cyclist and speed skater Chris Witty has achieved many of her athletic goals. If she can overcome her mononucleosis, she might obtain the one she's still aiming for - an Olympic gold medal.