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 Diner 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.