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    Thursday, February 19, 1998

    Bonnie who? Skater Witty sets her own course

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Chris Witty carved out a speedskating niche all her own at the Nagano Olympics -- and she didn't even have to win a gold medal to do it.
     A silver and a bronze were all she needed to escape the imposing legacy of Bonnie Blair.
     "I've got my own medals now, so hopefully I'll have my own name," Witty said. "I won't have to live in the shadow of the great Bonnie Blair, which isn't a bad thing necessarily. But people now will remember me as Chris Witty."
     Make that Chris Witty, two-time Olympic medalist.
     The 22-year-old from West Allis, Wis., captured her second medal of the games on Thursday, finishing runner-up to Marianne Timmer of the Netherlands in the 1,000 meters. Though initially bummed out about not winning -- after all, she held the world record -- Witty began to change her view after the she had silver around her neck for a few hours.
     "I would have been happy just to have one medal, but now I have two," said Witty, who won a surprising bronze Monday in the 1,500. "The silver is a little more shiny than the bronze, so I'm pretty happy with it."
     Blair wasn't on hand at M-Wave to crown her successor, but she gave her blessing from a promotional event across town.
     "One of Chris' strong points is her technique, and that was something that was always very high on my list," Blair said. "She's a great technical skater, and very strong. She skates with more power than I was able to generate, but she's a bigger girl, too."
     Witty, who bears a resemblance to actress Sissy Spacek, is a worthy leader for this new generation of the U.S. speedskaters. Forget the apple-pie homeyness exuded by Blair and Dan Jansen; this is a group with an MTV view of life, epitomized by Witty's pierced naval and the leprechaun tattoo on her hip.
     "Other than technique, I'd say we're different people, each with our own likes and dislikes and views," Blair said. "But that doesn't mean we can't each have success."
     Witty's success emerged from humble origins. When she was 12, her father lost his factory job and was forced to scramble for whatever work he could get throughout most of his daughter's teen-age years.
     "I think it made me tougher, more determined," Witty said. "I was this little kid from West Allis who had no money. I'd go to a skating camp and have 40 bucks for the whole month. It made me realize that you don't need money to be happy. I know some skaters who have wealthy parents -- lawyers, doctors, that sort of thing -- and I don't know if they really appreciate everything in life."
     One thing is for sure: Witty intends to squeeze everything she can from life. Already, she is making plans to try out for the U.S. cycling team that will go to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
     Who knows? Maybe she won't have to wait four years to pick up another medal.
     "If I put the effort into it, I think I can learn a lot and gain some experience and maybe I can do something," Witty said.
     She already has.