Twenty-six years after she became the first American to win three
medals at a Winter Olympics, Sheila Young, 51, is returning to
the Games with a personal rooting interest. She's Sheila Ochowicz
now, and she'll be in Salt Lake City to cheer on her 18-year-old
daughter, Elli, who will race for the U.S. in the 500 meters on
Feb. 13. "It's nerve-racking," Ochowicz says of being a
spectator. "I know how Elli feels, but there's nothing I can do.
It makes me wacko."
In the 1970s Ochowicz was one of the finest amateur athletes in
the world. Growing up in Birmingham, Mich., she first skated at
age two, and went on to be coached by her father, Clair, who had
competed in speed skating and cycling. She skated at her first
Olympics when she was 21, in Sapporo in 1972, and failed to earn
a medal. Four years later she left Innsbruck with a full set,
taking gold in the 500 meters, silver in the 1,500 and bronze in
the 1,000. She also won three world championships in speed
skating and three in sprint cycling, including titles in both
sports in the year of her Olympic triumph. She could not compete
at the Summer Games because women's track cycling didn't become
part of the Olympics until 1988. Ochowicz won her last world
cycling crown in '81, then retired from both sports the next
year. "I had done everything I wanted to do," she says. "I can
understand people who compete into their 30s, but there are other
things in life."
Ochowicz, who taught elementary physical education in the
Milwaukee area for 13 years, lives in Menlo Park, Calif., with
her husband, Jim, and their 13-year-old son, Alex. The couple
has a second daughter, Kate, a 24-year-old graduate student in
exercise and sports psychology who lives in Park City, Utah,
with Elli. Ochowicz coached Elli for a few years but decided in
1997 to leave that job to someone else. (U.S. Olympic sprint
coach Mike Crowe has worked with Elli since 1999.) "When Elli
comes to me, I give her my input, but otherwise I keep my mouth
shut," Sheila says. "You've got to know when to shut up and let
them figure things out for themselves."
Sheila and the entire Ochowicz clan, including Clair, 83, will
be in Salt Lake City rooting for the home team. When she's not
cheering, Ochowicz plans to soak up the Olympic atmosphere and
renew friendships. She remains close to several former U.S.
teammates, including the 1984 Olympic road-race cycling
champion, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who was a 14-year-old speed
skater in 1972. "She said to me, 'Can you believe our first
Olympics were 30 years ago?'" Ochowicz says. "I guess it does
make me feel old, but I'm looking forward to seeing old friends
and watching the sport I love."
February 4, 2002