Some people would have made a scene, but Sheila Young simply picked up her plate and marched it back to the cafeteria-style serving counter in the Olympic Village at Innsbruck. "There's a pebble in here with my vegetables," she said. In fact, she suggested, it was more like a small rock. The Austrian counterman didn't understand a word of it but he solved the problem. He scraped the vegetables back into the big serving kettle to be dished up to other Olympians waiting in line. Young shrugged and returned to her steak, unflappable as ever.
After winning her gold medal in the 500, she gently nuzzled her fiancé, Jim Ochowicz, ignoring the crush of people about her. Sheila's father finally got through and, crying, said, "The kid has a lot of class."
Young had arrived in Innsbruck unflustered at being a heavy favorite, and she stayed that way. She hid her steel beneath a Gidget-goes-to-Hollywood exterior, breezily chatting through her press conferences. "Gosh," she would say. She said "gosh" a lot. "I'll try to skate my best."
Young smuggled Ochowicz into the Olympic Village, wrapping him in a U.S.A. team jacket and marching him in past a gantlet of machine-gun-packing guards. "I didn't look right or left," he said. "I just walked straight ahead."
February 16, 1976
Young, who is also a world champion cyclist, had sold her racing bike for $250 to help finance Ochowicz' trip to Innsbruck, which brought her worldly possessions down to two large woolly dogs. Ochowicz is a bicycle racer, too.
Each night before her races, Young shaved her arms and legs as swimmers do, sharpened her skates and laid out her racing outfit, then slept soundly on the narrow, hard bed in her cramped room at the women's village. Every morning she taped a foam rubber pad over her left foot to protect a strained ligament. At seven in the morning she would meet Ochowicz for a run through the village. "I feel fast today," she would say.
With two medals won and one to go she went with Ochowicz to the Pension Lisbeth, where he was staying. As they entered the lobby, the proprietor offered to pop a bottle of champagne. "Not today," said Young. "Tomorrow." That evening she stood on the victory stand in the white sweater and navy pants that are her team's modest dress uniform. Turning to her coach, Peter Schotting, she said, "Why haven't you said anything nice to me yet?"
"I'm waiting for you to congratulate me," said Schotting.
Young's career has been shaped by men, and the fact that all of them were on the scene contributed to her confidence. Her mother died when she was 13, and Clair Young brought up the four children. "Going speed skating went with raising the kids," says Young, who used to be a "run-of-the-mill racer" himself. "I couldn't afford a babysitter, so everybody had to come along." Sheila met Schotting, a stubborn, red-haired Dutchman, late in 1971 when he was 28 and she 21, an ex-junior champion without goals or ambition. "One year of training with Peter Schotting and you'll be a champion," he said. A little more than a year later she won the world sprint championship. Schotting took a teaching job at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For two years he and Sheila were close personal friends. Then she broke off the relationship.
Schotting, who continued to coach her, came to be respected as one of the best in the U.S. and was appointed the Olympic coach. The week before the Games he bought skintight electric blue suits for six U.S. racers from a tailor in Davos for $80 each. A hood covers the head like a bathing cap, and there are loops for the thumbs to keep the sleeves from pulling up. The Swiss press called Young "Frogman Sheila."
Last Saturday, after Young had won her third medal, the bronze in the 1,000 behind teammate Leah Poulos, she remained as cool as ever. "When I looked at the medal on the victory stand last night," she said, "I thought it had the nicest color."
After Innsbruck, she will compete in the women's world championships at Gj√∏vik, Norway and in the world sprint championships in Berlin. Then she will kick off her skates and have one last go at bicycle racing in the world championships in Sicily this summer, hoping to repeat her performance of 1973 when she was the world sprint champion. At Montreal she will root for her brother Roger, who won a gold medal in cycling at the Pan-Am Games last year, and for Ochowicz. The two hope to make the Olympic four-man 4,000-meter pursuit team. Then Sheila and Och will get married and watch a new U.S. skating crop lace up and race.