Twenty-six years after she became the first American to win three medals at a Winter Olympics, Sheila Young, 51, is returning to the Games with a personal rooting interest. She's Sheila Ochowicz now, and she'll be in Salt Lake City to cheer on her 18-year-old daughter, Elli, who will race for the U.S. in the 500 meters on Feb. 13. "It's nerve-racking," Ochowicz says of being a spectator. "I know how Elli feels, but there's nothing I can do. It makes me wacko."
In the 1970s Ochowicz was one of the finest amateur athletes in the world. Growing up in Birmingham, Mich., she first skated at age two, and went on to be coached by her father, Clair, who had competed in speed skating and cycling. She skated at her first Olympics when she was 21, in Sapporo in 1972, and failed to earn a medal. Four years later she left Innsbruck with a full set, taking gold in the 500 meters, silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000. She also won three world championships in speed skating and three in sprint cycling, including titles in both sports in the year of her Olympic triumph. She could not compete at the Summer Games because women's track cycling didn't become part of the Olympics until 1988. Ochowicz won her last world cycling crown in '81, then retired from both sports the next year. "I had done everything I wanted to do," she says. "I can understand people who compete into their 30s, but there are other things in life."
Ochowicz, who taught elementary physical education in the Milwaukee area for 13 years, lives in Menlo Park, Calif., with her husband, Jim, and their 13-year-old son, Alex. The couple has a second daughter, Kate, a 24-year-old graduate student in exercise and sports psychology who lives in Park City, Utah, with Elli. Ochowicz coached Elli for a few years but decided in 1997 to leave that job to someone else. (U.S. Olympic sprint coach Mike Crowe has worked with Elli since 1999.) "When Elli comes to me, I give her my input, but otherwise I keep my mouth shut," Sheila says. "You've got to know when to shut up and let them figure things out for themselves."
Sheila and the entire Ochowicz clan, including Clair, 83, will be in Salt Lake City rooting for the home team. When she's not cheering, Ochowicz plans to soak up the Olympic atmosphere and renew friendships. She remains close to several former U.S. teammates, including the 1984 Olympic road-race cycling champion, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who was a 14-year-old speed skater in 1972. "She said to me, 'Can you believe our first Olympics were 30 years ago?'" Ochowicz says. "I guess it does make me feel old, but I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and watching the sport I love."