But now bell-bottoms are back, and retro is hip, which might help to explain racquetball's quiet renaissance. Participation is inching back up—nine million players is the current figure—and last spring, in an episode of Friends, Chandler and Joey shared their angst through a few points on a racquetball court. Michelle, of course, is still winning.
In 1992 she married Rod Gould, a recreational player who is now her coach and manager, and when they're not traveling to tournaments, they call Boise home. She spends 20 weeks a year on the road. And even after winning everything in her sport, she finds challenges and goals in it.
Her most impressive accomplishment was winning the gold medal in the Women's Open singles at the Pan American Games in Buenos Aires last spring. (By putting her pro winnings in a trust fund that she draws on to pay for her training, Gould can maintain her dual pro-amateur status, which allows her to compete in international amateur events.) Hours after touching down in South America, Gould caught a virus that sent her temperature up to 104�. For a week she went from her hotel bed to her matches, played, wrapped herself in cold towels and headed back to bed.
"People have so much respect for what she's accomplished," says Gould's doubles partner, Cheryl Gudinas, who lost to her in the finals in Vegas. "Right now no one playing thinks she can beat Michelle. It's mental. No one even expects to win." Not long ago one player was so intimidated by having to play Gould that in the middle of the match she threw up.
In fact, Gould has been so invincible that other women players have said she should again take the court against men. The men may not agree. "Michelle's incredibly talented—and powerful," says John Ellis, who has hit with Gould and is ranked fifth in the world. "She also has great court sense. But the top men still hit the ball harder, and their game is more aggressive."
Gould, for her part, prefers to stay focused on her game and on her role as racquetball's goodwill ambassador. She works with an organization called AmPro, certifying racquetball instructors and conducting clinics in the U.S. and abroad. She is also lobbying hard, on behalf of the American Amateur Racquetball Association, to make racquetball an Olympic sport. "I was in Sydney last summer, talking to the organizing committee for the 2000 Games," she says. "We couldn't convince them to include racquetball, but we're not giving up. Competing in the Olympics is my dream."
For now Gould will have to settle for being No. 1 in the women's racquetball world. But IOC officials should take note of the champion's determination. As those 4-H judges learned years ago when Shorty was chased by a bull, Michelle doesn't let go easily.