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Original Issue

Eyes On The Prize America's best speedskating hope, Chris Witty, knows what she wants

Long before she became the finest speedskater in the U.S., Chris
Witty learned to live by the saying, "Never worry about what
other people have and you don't." But mottoes that apply to
incidentals like money and food don't wash when it comes to
essentials like medals. Last weekend at the world single-distance
championships on the 2002 Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, as
teammates Derek Parra took a silver medal in the 1,500 meters and
Casey FitzRandolph earned a bronze in the 500, Witty was
decidedly unsatisfied with her best showing, a fourth-place
finish in the 1,000--even if her time of 1:14.59 was only .01 of a
second off the world record she'd set in Calgary a week earlier.
Gold medalist Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt of Germany now owns the
record, 1:14.13.

"I wanted one," Witty said of the medal around FitzRandolph's
neck. "Maybe now people will overlook me next year." Not likely.
Witty, who got two medals at the Nagano Games in 1998, remains
the U.S. team's strongest long-track gold medal threat. She
stands out in other ways as well.

Last year Witty became the ninth U.S. athlete to compete in both
winter and summer Olympics when she cycled to fifth place in the
500-meter time trial. When she appeared on Late Night with David
Letterman, Dave gave her a file organizer to keep track of her
medals. At 25, Witty is no longer a wild child. Gone are the
tongue stud and the nose piercing. She still has a tattoo of the
Notre Dame leprechaun on her hip (she has no link to the Irish;
she just likes the mascot) and vivid memories of her rough and
ready childhood.

After she won her first pack-start 500-meter race, in her
hometown of West Allis, Wis., at age nine, Chris went into the
stands to talk to her father, Walter, and her mother, Diane, who
pointed to the runner-up only then arriving at the finish. Chris
also walloped the boys to win three all-city trophies each in
Punt, Pass & Kick, and Pitch, Hit & Run contests. She rode
skateboards and dirt bikes and played bass guitar. "She outboyed
the boys," says Diane, who for a time supported the family of six
on unemployment checks after she was laid off from her job in the
claims department of an insurance company and Walter lost his
job. Chris and her brother Mike worked paper routes and often
slept on floors of host families' homes when they traveled to
speedskating and cycling competitions. In 1991 Mike and Chris
took a 30-hour bus ride to Boulder, Colo., where they earned
spots on the junior national cycling team and funding for the bus
trip home.

"Somehow we always got that bus ticket or those Christmas gifts,"
says Chris. "They might have been socks from Kmart, but we made
the most of our gifts."

--Brian Cazeneuve