Racing for the Olympics and love Chladek chasing whitewater berth


This is about love, marriage, the two-career family and the Olympic Games.

Dana Chladek of Bethesda is a whitewater kayaker, the best in America, and perhaps, the best in the world. She wants to be an Olympian, but not for the obvious reasons of trying to achieve gold and glory.

"If I make the team, it means I'll get to sleep with my husband," she said.

Don't blush.

Chladek is married to Thierry Humeau, a whitewater canoe competitor from France who earned an Olympic berth last month. Now, it's Chladek's turn to charge through her country's trials on the way to the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Today and tomorrow, Chladek and 100 other competitors will race in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Whitewater Slalom Racing on the Savage River near Bloomington in western Maryland.

Fifteen Americans in four disciplines will emerge from the frothy current and advance to the man-made Olympic course in La Seu d'Urgell, Spain. Chladek, 28, has perhaps the strongest claim on a berth. A 1989 world silver medalist, her controlled and precise paddling style rarely breaks under the stress of competition.

Czechoslovakian-born, American-raised, married to a Frenchman, toughened by training on three continents, Chladek the definition of an international sports competitor. She is at home, whether it's racing in Bethesda, Brazil or France.

She remembers little of her childhood in Prague. When she was 5, Chladek arrived in the United States with her parents, who were members of the Czech whitewater team.

"So many people were leaving the country that they cracked down on the borders," she said. "I think we were lucky to get out."

She received her first boat at 12, competed while attending Dartmouth University, and achieved quick success internationally with a bronze medal in a team event at the 1987 World Championships.

Chladek, a French literature major, met her future husband at a race in Merano, Italy. They were married two years later in Poitiers, France.

"I think he spotted me on the side of the race course," she said. "He tried to impress me with his English. We ended up speaking in French. It was nothing unusual. There are quite a few international romances going on."

Chladek and her husband have struggled financially in what is perhaps the most obscure of Olympics sports. They receive stipends from their national federations, and she owns and operates a safety jacket business. Still, travel and daily living expenses pile up.

"We're in a Podunk sport," she said. "I know that if I win an Olympic medal, no one is going to come knocking on my door the next day to offer endorsements. We do this because we love it."

Chladek figures to have an easier time making the American team than her husband did making the French team. But her experience has taught her to take nothing for granted.

She could have grown up in Czechoslovakia. Or left America. Or settled in France.

"Wherever I was, I probably still would have kayak raced," she said. "And I might have still met my husband."

Now, she wants only to join her husband for one summer journey to Spain.

"I race for America because it's my country," she said. "But if I raced for France or Czechoslovakia, I wouldn't feel any different on the starting line. You don't win medals for your country. You win them for yourself."

Olympic trials for whitewater slalom racing

Where: Savage River, near Bloomington in Garrett County

When: Today-tomorrow, 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Tickets: $10 available through TicketMaster (children under 12 free). Information, call (800) 695-4221 or (301) 387-6666.

Parking: Designated areas only, with spectators arriving on the site via shuttle bus.

At stake: Three Olympic berths each in women's single kayak and men's single kayak, single canoe and double canoe. First- and second-place finishers in tomorrow's races and winners of Sunday's races receive Olympic berths.

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