Four hours after gliding to a 12th-place finish in the 5,000
meters at the ice speed skating world championships in Baselga
di Pine, Italy, in February 1995, KC Boutiette took a train and
then a plane to Orlando, where he got in some training before a
photo shoot for Rollerblade, the company that sponsors his other
career, as an in-line skater. The morning after the shoot he got
back on a plane to Germany to resume training with the U.S.
speed skating team. "I woke up the next day, and I had no idea
where I was," says Boutiette, 25. "That's happened a couple of
Such are the hazards of traveling so far so fast. Since shocking
the ice skating world in January 1994 by winning the U.S.
Olympic Trials after just six weeks of training in the sport,
Boutiette has challenged Deion Sanders for his unofficial title
as the premier two-sport athlete. Boutiette finished 1995 as the
third-ranked in-line skater on the National Points Circuit; in
January he won the U.S. speed skating championships at 1,500 and
10,000 meters; and last month he finished fifth at the World
Allround Championships. "It's hard to make somebody understand
how difficult it is to do what he's done," says Olympic speed
skating gold medalist Dan Jansen.
Four years ago Boutiette's only connection with competitive
sports was watching an occasional college football game on
television. He was living with friends and working in
construction in Federal Way, Wash., 15 miles north of his
hometown, Tacoma. "My biggest thrill was coming home from work,
drinking beer with my buddies, waking up the next day and maybe
playing Ping-Pong," he says.
At 5'10" and 160 pounds, with an earring in each ear and his
head shaved to resemble Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, Boutiette
looks as if he belongs at a rave rather than in a race. And
though he's the U.S. men's best hope for a speed skating medal
at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as well as one of the
world's elite in-line distance skaters, he seems almost
unaffected by his success. "I've been wanting to get a job at a
Subway or something," he says. "There's a lot of little things
like that I want to do, but I just don't have time."
Not that Boutiette regrets the direction his life has taken
since he quit his job shoveling gravel in 1992 to try his luck
as a professional in-line skater. Boutiette had raced on roller
skates as a kid, but he hadn't skated competitively in five
years when he tried out a friend's new in-line skates in
December 1991. Two months later Boutiette flew to Florida for
the Orlando Classic, which drew a top national field of quad and
in-line skaters, and won the 5,000-meter indoor race. That
prompted him to change his life. "I was sick of being a
half-assed worker," Boutiette says. "I decided I wanted to be
either a good worker or a good skater. I was still young, so I
Boutiette moved to Southern California, the in-line hub, and
devoted himself to training. In 1993 he signed with Rollerblade,
and by October he had won the International In-line Skating
Association Championship and the '93 Rollerblade America Tour,
which was then the most competitive.
That summer, as part of his in-line training, Boutiette worked
out on ice skates and liked it. So when the in-line season
ended, Dave Smessaert, Geo/Rollerblade's team manager, invited
Boutiette to stay at his place in Milwaukee, where Boutiette
could continue training at the Pettit National Ice Center.
Boutiette didn't own ice skates, so he bought blades and mounted
them on a pair of his in-line boots. To his surprise, he soon
was turning out lap times good enough to qualify him for the
Olympic speed skating trials, which would be held in Milwaukee
in late December. Boutiette borrowed a video of Norway's gold
medal skater, Johann Olav Koss, to learn technique, and he began
to visualize winning races.
"I got a call from KC one afternoon, and he was screaming into
the phone," says Boutiette's mother, Mickey, who still lives in
Tacoma. "He said, 'Mom, I just won the 5,000- and 10,000-meter
trials, and the press is all over me! I can't believe this is
happening!' I thought, My god, I guess he's serious about this."
He went to the Olympics and, even though his qualifying times
weren't among the top 32 in the world, he got to make his debut
in the 1,500 meters when Jansen pulled out to focus on the
1,000. Boutiette finished 39th.
He's always seeking challenges. Last April he and a friend tried
biking from Milwaukee to Seattle, videotaping much of their
journey, which included sleeping in abandoned barns and hitching
a ride during a snowstorm with three Deadheads and a dog in a
Volvo. "Cross-countrying was great," says Boutiette, who plans
to bike from Milwaukee to Atlanta this summer to attend the
Olympics. "It was like, anything you want to do, you can do. The
one thing was I always had a credit card to fall back on, so
next time we won't take it."
With Jansen and Bonnie Blair now retired from skating,
Boutiette--who still calls the training room at the Pettit Center
"the cool-guy room," as if he doesn't belong there--has put his
inimitable stamp on U.S. speed skating.
"We're now known as the wild team, and KC's a big part of that,"
says Gerard Kemkers, a U.S. national team coach. "Who knows how
good he can be? He's still only learning the details."