SALT LAKE CITY On a recent evening following his fourth-place finish in Olympic freestyle moguls, skier Jonny Moseley kicked back on his couch, content to take in a few hours of television.
The must-see show in question? A documentary peek at the Playboy Mansion.
“I was looking for myself,” said Moseley, a member of the United States ski team. “And I was tripping out, ‘cause I was at some of those parties. I was psyched to be a part of that.”
In the four years since Moseley took home freestyle gold at the Nagano Games, he’s been psyched to be a part of, well, just about everything magazine covers, talk shows, chats with former President Clinton, soirees at the chateau de Hef. Next week, Moseley will even host “Saturday Night Live.”
And all because of a single run down a snow-covered Japanese hill.
“I knew that if you win a gold medal, you definitely get some recognition, for sure,” Moseley said. “But I didn’t think I or anybody else expected it to last so long or go so large.”
Such is the nature of Olympic glory. More than a mere reward for hard work and outsized dedication, a medal at the Games can be a one-way ticket to fame, fortune and boundless or in Moseley’s case, bouncy opportunity:
*Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the cause celebre of the Games, have been on television more often than Bob Costas and stand to earn millions in endorsements.
*The day after earning the United States’ first gold medal, snowboarder Kelly Clark spent more than eight hours giving interviews for print and television.
*Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann, a double-gold winner, has become an instant celebrity in his home country.
“I have tried to take everything in,” Ammann said the day after his second victory. “Yesterday, we tried to have a celebration party, but it was impossible because everyone kept asking questions and asking for autographs.”
Travis Mayer can relate. Since winning a silver medal in last Tuesday’s freestyle moguls, the 19-year-old native of Springville, N.Y., has been on a five-day joyride, a magical mystery tour of interviews, accolades and schmoozing.
First came a U.S. ski team party; next, a stop on the medals plaza podium. After that, Mayer attended a U.S. Olympic Committee bash, a second ski team shindig and a 4:15a.m. taping of NBC’s “Today Show,” followed by a corporate meet-and-greet for John Hancock and appearances on CBS, two cable channels and Jay Leno.
Total time? About one day. Total sleep time? About two hours.
“It’s been pretty crazy, and I was pretty naive as to what would happen,” Mayer said with a laugh. “A couple of days ago, I was just a kid with a sunburn. Now, people think I’m cool.”
Likewise, Clark made the post-medal talk show rounds, popping up on NBC, CBS, CNN, Leno and David Letterman. Following her stint on NBC, she even gave $65million morning host Katie Couric a snowboard lesson.
“I don’t remember [how many times Couric fell],” Clark said. “She picked it up pretty easily.”
At the very least, Olympic fame is good for the best table in the joint. For pretty much the rest of your life.
During a press junket in New York City last summer, U.S. freestyle aerialists Emily Cook and Eric Bergoust dropped by Smith and Wollensky, an upscale steakhouse. Famished, they asked for a table and were told to wait until Bergoust let it slip that he was a gold medal winner at Nagano.
The pair was seated immediately.
“I didn’t realize how big of a deal people made out of it,” Mayer said. “For me, it’s just sports, but [most] people don’t really pay attention to winter sports any other time. If you do well [at the Olympics], everyone’s really pumped.”
Are they ever. When Finland’s Toni Nieminen became the youngest male to ever win Winter Games gold in 1992, the 16-year-old ski jumper needed a police escort to protect him from throngs of teen-age girl admirers.
Nieminen’s sponsor, Toyota, gave him a $50,000 sports car. Though Nieminen wasn’t old enough to drive, the Finnish government issued him a special permit that allowed him to hit the road.
“Stuff happens daily,” Moseley said. “I mean, I didn’t expect to get a call from ‘Saturday Night Live’ before this Olympics.”
Two seasons ago, Mayer lost $5,000 on his sport, earning $10,000 in sponsor and prize money but spending $15,000 to compete. And prior to the Games, his only major non-ski equipment sponsor was Powerbar.
Following his silver, however, his agent was discussing deals with McDonald’s, John Hancock, Monster.com and Xerox.
“My financial situation has changed a bit,” Mayer said with a laugh. “In the past, I was scraping together cash. Now, other people will be more than willing to foot the bill. It’ll be nice just to focus on training.”
Spoils aside, fame isn’t for everyone. U.S. speedskater Eric Heiden racked up a record five golds at the 1980 Lake Placid Games, then quit the sport to escape the limelight.
Iron curtain ice vamp Katarnia Witt won figure skating gold in 1984 and received 35,000 love letters. She was also put under surveillance by East German dictator Erich Honecker, who had the Stasi keep track of her lovers and we’re not making this up the duration of her sexual encounters.
Even Moseley who parlayed his 15 minutes into a two-year adventure said that celebrity status can get old.
“I used to really feed off of it,” he said. “I wanted to try and make sure I wasn’t one of those people who just disappear. Now, I’m kind of over the novelty of it. I lived it up and sucked it out.”
Moseley isn’t kidding. After winning the first U.S. gold in Nagano, the effervescent skier became nothing short of America’s Guest.
He hung with heavy-metal band Metallica. Rode a chartered flight with the San Francisco 49ers. Gabbed with Letterman. Starred in a self-titled video game. Partied with the Hef. Shot a magazine cover and had dinner with supermodel Cindy Crawford.
“Elle MacPherson and Cindy Crawford were the two people I met where I was like, ‘this is ridiculous,’” Moseley said. “If only my buddies could have been there.”
Moseley also competed on the made-for-TV “Superstars” competition, which is held in Jamaica and matches pro athletes from various sports in events like kayaking and basketball.
Going up against the likes of Herschel Walker, long jumper Mike Powell and Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound Moseley more than held his own, finishing second and defeating Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart in an obstacle course race.
“I was partying the whole time,” Moseley said with a laugh. “I didn’t think I’d have a chance. I knew I’d win the jet ski and all the WASP-y sports, but I had never pushed a football sled before. The thing wouldn’t even move, and I’m pushing it as hard as I can. Herschel was coaching me.
“Then I beat Kordell. He was devastated.”
As good as it can be for most athletes, Olympic fame has its limits. Following his bronze-medal performance in last week’s men’s free skate, American Timothy Goebel made the Friday morning talk show rounds, appearing on “Today,” “The Early Show” and CNN.
Shortly thereafter, however, he was back at the Athlete’s Village. Doing his laundry.
“When you run out of socks,” he explained, “you run out socks.”