American speed skater
In the 1970s and early 1980s, American Sheila Young was a dominant force in two sports—speed skating and cycling—though she did not receive much recognition for her accomplishments in the United States. She won world championships in both sports in 1973 and 1976. Young was also the first athlete to win three medals in one Winter Olympic Games in 1976.
Young was born on October 14, 1950, in Birmingham, Michigan, the daughter of Clair and Georgia (Mc-Cluskey) Young. Her father worked in the traffic department of an automotive parts plant in Detroit and later founded the Wolverine Sports Club. He was also a state champion in cycling in Michigan and competed in skating. Young's mother also competed at cycling (once tying for the national championship) and skating.
From a young age, Young was exposed to both sports. She was skating at two, and riding a bike at four. After her mother died when Young was 12, she became more serious in sports. Her father used athletic pursuits as a way of entertaining his family, which included three other children. (Young's older brother Roger was a competitive cyclist and an older sister was a competitive speed skater.)
Becomes Competitive Speed Skater
Young first began competitive speed skating when she was nine years old. She trained on area outdoor lakes and in public rinks, with her father serving as her coach until she was 20 years old. While still in high school, Young took a second place at the U.S. National Speed Skating Championship and was also a national junior champion. She nearly made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team in 1968.
After Young graduated from high school, she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to train at the only Olympic size speed skating training rink in the country. The move paid off when, in 1970, she won her first two championships: the U.S. National Outdoor championship and the North American Outdoor Championship. She repeated as the latter in 1971.
In this time period, training for speed skating was considered unsophisticated in the United States as compared to Europe. In the early 1970s, Young hired Dutchman Peter Schotting as her coach. He used cycling as part of her year-round training program, which also included running and skating.
In 1972, Young competed in her first Winter Olympics, in Sapporo, Japan. She finished fourth in the 500-meter race, missing the bronze by 8/100 of a second. That same year, she won both 500-meter races at the World Sprint Championship. Young continued to modify her training, increasing the intensity and focusing on strength and endurance. She also decided to do longer races, not just sprints.
In the mid-1970s, Young was a dominant force in speed skating. In 1973, she won the U.S. Speedskating Championships in the 500-, 1000-, and 3000-meters. She also won the 500- and 1000-meters at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships, and the 500-meters at the Women's World Speed Skating Championships. In 1975, she won the 500-meters at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships.
Wins Olympic Medals
All her success in the mid-1970s helped prepare Young for the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. At the games, she first won a silver in the 1500-meters, then strained a ligament in her left foot. Despite the injury, she won gold and set an Olympic record in the 500-meters and took the bronze in the 1000 meters. Later that year, she also won the Women's World Speed Skating Championships in both the 500- and 1000-meters.
Competes as Cyclist
When Young was 20 years old, she began competing as a cyclist, during the speed skating off-season. As with speed skating, her first coach was her father. Young won her first titles at the 1971 ABLA (Amateur Bicycle League of America)'s National Sprint Championships.
Young did not really become serious about cycling until 1973, when she decided to see how she would fair against international competition. She did well. In 1973, Young became the first American to win an international cycling event in more than 50 years when she won the women's sprint title at the World Cycling Championships. She won despite the fact that she had crashed twice and had injuries that should have knocked her out of the race. Young also won the ABLA's women's national sprint championship that year.
|1950||Born October 14, in Birmingham, Michigan|
|1971||Hired Peter Schotting as her speed skating coach|
|1972||Competed in Winter Olympics|
|1976||Competed at the Winter Olympics; married cyclist Jim Ochowicz; briefly retired to have child, Kate|
|1980||Began training intensely in both sports again|
|1981||Placed seventh at the World Speed Skating Championship|
|1982||Placed second at the World's Cycling Championship|
|1983||Retired from competition; gave birth to Elli on December 15|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1970||Wins U.S. National Outdoor championship in speed skating; wins North American Outdoor Championship in speed skating|
|1971||Wins U.S. National Outdoor championship in speed skating; wins ABLA (Amateur Bicycle League of America) National Sprint title in bicycling|
|1972||Wins both 500-meter races at World Sprint Championships (speed skating)|
|1973||Wins U.S. Speedskating Championships in 500-, 1000-, and 3000-meters; wins 500- and 1000-meters at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships; wins 500-meter gold at the Women's World Speed Skating Championship; wins women's sprint title at the World Cycling Championship; wins women's sprint title at the ABLA national track championships in cycling|
|1974||Wins ABLA Women's National Sprint title in cycling|
|1976||Competes at the Winter Olympics, winning gold in 500-meter race, bronze in 1000-meter race, and silver in 1500-meter race; wins the Women's World Speed Skating Championship in both 500- and 1000-meters; wins the 500 meter GKWS (speed skating), setting world's record; wins the U.S. Sprint Championship and the World Sprint Championship (cycling); named USOC's (United States Olympic Committee) sportswoman of the year|
|1981||Wins women's sprint gold medal at the National Track Cycling Championships; wins World's Cycling Championship; named USOC's sportswoman of the year|
Young wanted to quit competitive cycling, but was talked into staying by Mike Fraysse, the U.S. team manager. In 1976, Young won two more titles—the U.S. Sprint Championship and the World Sprint title—after the Winter Olympics. Despite her success as a cyclist, speed skating remained her first love. She told Nan Nelson of the Milwaukee Journal, "Even though I try not to have too much of a preference, I think that skating is more graceful, and I think there is more technical skill involved in it."
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Sketch by A. Petruso
Where Is She Now?
In 1976, Young was married to cyclist Jim Ochowicz and soon became pregnant. She did not compete for several years, until she resumed intensive training in both sports in the spring of 1980. In 1981, she placed seventh at the World Speed Skating Competition. Young did better in cycling, winning the national women's sprint championship and the World's Cycling championship in 1981, and placing second in 1982. Though she was aiming for speed skating at the 1984 Winter Olympics, she retired fully in 1983 when she again became pregnant.
After Young retired, she primarily focused on her family, but also completed her bachelor's degree in physical education at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. She later became a physical education teacher on the elementary level for 13 years. Young remained connected to her sports by serving on the U.S. Cycling Federation board of directors and the executive board of U.S. Olympic Committee. She helped set up the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. Young was also a founding member of the Women's Sports Foundation and on the board of Special Olympics International. Young's daughter Elli became a competitive speed skater who was a member of the U.S. Olympic speed skating team in 2002.
Young told Mark Beech of Sports Illustrated, "I had done everything I wanted to do. I can understand people who compete into their 30s, but there are other things in life."