New Breed of Cat
With his leopard 'do, U.S. downhiller Chad Fleischer is getting
Chad Fleischer turns heads even in New York City. As the U.S.'s
best Alpine skier walked along a street in Manhattan last
November, two young women gawked at the leopardlike black spots
in Fleischer's yellow hair. "Pigeons?" one guessed. "Funny
mumps," surmised the other.
In fact, the 28-year-old Fleischer's distinctive 'do is part of
an identity makeover. Until the 1999 season Fleischer was best
recognized for spotty skiing; he offered glimpses of superior
talent, but it was buried by caroms off restraining nets. Ski
historians list his upside-down airborne departure from the
downhill run at Kitzbuhel, Austria, in 1995 as one of the sport's
scariest moments. "I was a time bomb," says Fleischer, a two-time
Olympian who crashed during his Games debut, in the Super G at
Lillehammer in '94, and missed most of last season with a torn
left rotator cuff suffered in a fall in Italy. "Guys hated skiing
after me because there'd be a 20-minute course hold following my
Soon after a dismal 1997-98 season Fleischer read a magazine
article about endangered Asian snow leopards and the stealth and
speed they use to survive, and it went to his head. "I wanted
people to know me for something cool and positive, not just for
killing myself," he says. That summer Fleischer began the ritual
he repeats every two months: He had his sandy hair cropped close,
bleached and painted to simulate leopard spots. One day in May
1998 he was eating in a San Diego restaurant when a Chargers
cheerleader named Renee Flaster passed his table and told him, "I
like your hair." They were married two years later. The
Fleischers live in Chad's hometown of Vail, Colo., and these days
Renee is both Chad's regular hair painter and a cheerleader for
the Denver Broncos.
The changes in Chad run more than follicle-deep. In 1992 his
mother, Linda, was found to have brain cancer and given three
weeks to live. She fought courageously before succumbing in
October '96. Chad was devastated that he'd failed to produce a
breakthrough race while his mother was alive. "When she was
sick, I'd cook her meals and carry her from the couch to the
bedroom," he says. "Then I lost her. I went into the tank."
Fleischer didn't rebound until the fall of 1998, when he hired a
personal trainer, dropped 20 pounds off his 6'2 1/2", 240-pound
frame and became a more disciplined racer. "I was pushing so
much, I had lost my feel for the snow," he says. "I had to learn
to see the course in slow motion."
In 1999 Fleischer won his second U.S. downhill title; placed
second at the World Cup finals in Sierra Nevada, Spain; and
collected on a bet he had made with his father, Bill. Because
Chad earned a top-three podium place in Spain, Bill, the world's
hippest 51-year-old, got a matching leopard cut only two days
after having knee surgery. "Got it done while I was still
medicated," says Bill, who first put his son on skis when Chad
was two and watched him speed down the hill and break the skis.
Before Chad's first race, four years later, Bill told him,
"Whatever you do, don't stop," but he neglected to add that Chad
should stop just after the finish line. Chad skied past the
finish into a 15-foot ditch. "Even then," says Bill, "he was
hanging on the edge, making you crazy."
Hanging Chads are like that.
Money in the Pool
Motivation for The Long Haul
USA Swimming wants its athletes to go the distance at the 2004
Athens Games. To encourage them, the organization is offering an
incentive: Any U.S. swimmer who wins a gold medal in world-record
time in the longest events--the 800-meter freestyle for women or
the 1,500 free for men--will earn a $1 million bonus, with an
additional $500,000 to go to the swimmer's coach. The money for
the payoff will come from an insurance policy. "In the last 20
years we've put our emphasis on the sprints," says USA Swimming
executive director Chuck Wielgus. "We've basically forgotten
about the distance events."
Wielgus's assessment is harsh on U.S. women. Janet Evans's 800
world mark of 8:16.22, set in 1989, still stands, and Brooke
Bennett has won the event at the last two Olympics. Still, having
to swim in heats or multiple events at the Games is an impediment
to setting distance records. No U.S. distance swimmer since Brian
Goodell in '76 has won an Olympic gold in world-record time.
"I was thinking I might let the 800 drift away when I got to
college," says Kaitlin Sandeno, who at 17 got a bronze at that
distance in Sydney. "Not anymore. A million dollars is out
Austrian Cable Car Disaster
Near Miss for a Maier Brother
Hermann Maier's Austrian teammates knew something was wrong on
Nov. 11 when they saw the World Cup all-around champ rush for a
telephone with the sort of abandon he usually reserves for the
slopes. The call from Beaver Creek, Colo., where Maier was
training, to Austria brought Maier both sorrow and relief. A
cable car on its 9 a.m. run through a tunnel in the Alpine
village of Kitzsteinhorn had exploded in flames, killing 155
people. It was a ride Hermann, 28, had taken many times in his
three-month stint there as a ski instructor in 1995. Fortunately,
on this morning--just by chance--it was a ride that Alex, the
Herminator's 26-year-old brother, hadn't taken.
Alex, a snowboarder who was in Kitzsteinhorn training for a
World Cup race and who had taken the cable car several times in
previous days, changed plans at the last moment and chose to
train at the bottom of the hill that day. "Racers talk about one
or two seconds all the time," Hermann told reporters. "That
seems so important until something like this happens." Alex, who
works summers at the Hermann Maier ski shop in the Maiers'
hometown of Flachau, took second in the snowboard Super G at the
2000 Goodwill Games. Hermann won downhill and giant slalom races
in Val d'Isere, France, last weekend and leads the overall World
Cup standings by a commanding 207 points.
COLOR PHOTO: CARL YARBROUGH Fleischer, once prone to spills but now more disciplined, hopes to crash skiing's elite.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY After his splash in Sydney, Thorpe isn't ready to dive into college.
If the political waters are safe, U.S. backstroker Lenny
Krayzelburg, who won three golds in Sydney, will honor his
Jewish heritage by competing at the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem
beginning in July. Krayzelburg, whose family emigrated from
Odessa when he was 13 in part to escape anti-Semitism, would
skip the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, to make his
first visit to Israel....
Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan announced her retirement after
she tested positive for a stimulant in her cold medicine in
Sydney and was stripped of her all-around gold medal. Last
month, however, she bounced back into action, placing second in
the all-around at the Chunichi Cup in Japan. Raducan, 17, plans
to compete at the 2004 Athens Games; the Romanian Olympic
Committee has a pending suit against the IOC to reclaim her
Australia's golden boy swimmer Ian Thorpe, who turned 18 in
October, has been discussing possible admission offers with two
Australian universities despite his having skipped his last two
years of high school and his not having taken the national
Higher School Certificate exam. The possible offers have drawn
criticism in Australia, where they are viewed as favoritism.
Thorpe, who is only now returning to training, says he may swim
internationally for at least four more years before going to
college and may attend a U.S. university (recruiters take
As for America's good news-bad news couple: Marion Jones is
hardly discouraged by her Sydney "failure" (only three golds and
two bronzes), though she vows not to make any more predictions.
Look for Jones, who returned to training in early November at
North Carolina State, to debut outdoors in April. "I'm not going
to commit to anything now," says Jones, who will peak for the
worlds in Edmonton in August, "but I still haven't won a world
championship in the long jump, the 200 or the four-by-four, so
perhaps that will give a hint as to where I'm headed." Jones's
husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, has appealed to USA Track &
Field to clear himself of steroid charges that came to light
during the Sydney Games. His lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, says the
charges will be overturned so quickly that "it will be almost
comical," but the 32-year-old Hunter is expected to retire no
matter what the outcome of his case.