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Chaffee had spent her entire life preparing for this odd achievement, studying advertising, photography, cinematography, acting and journalism in school—"all the things I would need later," she says. "I had to take total responsibility for my career. I studied photography so that now I can take a nonphotographer and line up a totally hot shot."
It hasn't always been easy. Several years ago, when filmmaker Warren Miller was shooting one of his annual ski movies in Vail, Colo., Chaffee kept barging into his shots, wearing a skintight bodysuit with 10-foot colored streamers flapping from her arms and legs. At one point she kicked a ski back behind her head in a maneuver called a Reuel and got it tangled in her ribbons while she was moving at high speed. "I thought, Oh, great, I'm going to die doing this for this jerk who doesn't even give a——," Chaffee says.
She promoted herself so hard that if—within 10 years of the Grenoble Games—you had asked most Americans which of their countrywomen had the most Olympic skiing medals, they might very well have answered Suzy Chapstick (confusing Chaffee's real name with the one she used in her most conspicuous product endorsement). When she participated in the drafting of a highly critical 10-point reform plan for the Olympics in 1972, she was confronted by an outraged Avery Brundage, then president of the International Olympic Committee. "You perjured yourself," Brundage admonished her, referring to the Olympic oath she took in order to be eligible, which stated, among other things, that she had not been in a training camp for more than 60 days in the past year and had received no government or private funding. "If you did that, you must give back your medals."
"But, Avery, I have no medals," she replied. "I have only principles."
Chaffee has worked tirelessly for worthy causes. She claims rumors that she was having an affair with Teddy Kennedy helped get the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 passed by the Congress. "The gossip got the bill through," Chaffee says. She's smiling now, absentmindedly pushing a sun-dried tomato around her plate. "One thing I've inadvertently done is be controversial," she says. "Unfortunately, people's ears weren't always open to the intellectual side, so I had to lean a little more toward the sex appeal side. If there's one thing I've learned about the hype that's involved, you have to give a little to get a little."
And with that she's off to valet parking. Waiting for her car, Chaffee notices a group of raffish homeless men who have taken up residence in seaside Palisades Park, just across the street from the restaurant. "They look like they're having fun out there," she says cheerfully, "camping out on the beach!" She waves, she smiles, then she's gone.