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Chaffee, Suzy (1946—)

Chaffee, Suzy (1946—)

American skier, influential in the creation of freestyle skiing, who is known as the "Mother of the Hotdog." Name variations: Suzy Chapstick (from a popular advertising campaign that she endorsed). Born in Rutland, Vermont, on November 29, 1946.

One of the more unusual events of the Winter Olympics is the freestyle mogul, a competition in which skiers race over treacherous terrain, sometimes jumping, sometimes flipping. A relatively new sport in the 1990s, the freestyle mogul has become tremendously popular with audiences worldwide. In the sport's early years, Suzy Chaffee greatly appreciated the event's potential and worked hard to see freestyle skiing made a part of the Olympics.

Raised in Rutland, Vermont, where skiing was an everyday sport, Chaffee was on the slopes by age three, an auspicious beginning for the woman who would become America's number-one ranked female skier by 1967. At age 22, in 1968, she was captain of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team in the Grenoble Winter Games. Although she won many national and international championships, Chaffee was dissatisfied with traditional events. She lost her heart to "hotdog" or freestyle skiing, marked by unusual or flamboyant maneuvers, once solely the terrain of daredevil males.

When she began competing in freestyle, there was no separate division for women, so she skied head-to-head with men. From 1971 to 1973, she was the World Freestyle champion. She thrived on tip rolls, outriggers, royals, worm turns, and 360s as she encouraged creativity, musical accompaniment and the use of short skis in the sport. She also urged other women to participate. When the International Freestyle Association was formed in 1973, Chaffee's concepts became central to the sport.

By 1974–75, women hotdoggers had their own competitions. Genia Fuller, Marion Post , and Karen Huntoon performed midair flips, airborne leaps, and catlike groundwork of great precision. Freestyle skiing was dangerous, so, while the stunts were spectacular, safety was always a concern. Organized contests included several areas: Stunt Ballet used short skis to produce spins and gymnastic moves to music. Freestyle Mogul involved the challenge of a treacherous course demanding an aggressive approach; Aerial Acrobatic, with its gainers, kickouts, spread eagles, and flips, has been likened to a springboard competition on skis.

When Chaffee became a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, she used her position to push for the acceptance of freestyle skiing. Eventually, the Mother of the Hotdog prevailed. Largely thanks to Chaffee's effort American women did exceptionally well in Freestyle Mogul events in the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Karin L. Haag , Athens, Georgia

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