On TV or on the Slopes, Suzy Chaffee Puts Sass and Sex into Sports
She comes schussing down the slopes like Wonder Woman, and then flips skyward in a breath-stopping hot dog somersault, or swoops into the graceful turns of freestyle ski ballet. She can throw herself into the arms of an astonished Jerry Ford—and make him a convert to one of her causes. Or she can turn pixie (right), cavorting about her home turf in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park like some bushy-tailed version of Kung Fu.
Suzy Chaffee, 29, onetime U.S. Olympic Women’s Ski Team captain, former model and peppery advocate of women’s equal rights in sports, flourishes by being her own uninhibited self. A fair sampling of same is on view Saturday afternoons as Chaffee plays opposite commentator Vin Scully on CBS’s 10-week series, Challenge of the Sexes.
“If you don’t win, you don’t score,” Suzy taunted super-macho tennis pro Ilie Nastase as he went down to defeat to Evonne Goolagong. She sees nothing wrong with a risqué sauciness on air (although CBS edited out her remark). “Madison Avenue has always used sex to sell products, so why not sports?” asks Suzy. “It’s especially valid because—well, sports are really good for your sex life.”
Suzy was by her own description a late starter in her dealings with men. Dubbed a “21-year-old jock virgin” when she was top U.S. downhill skier, she switched to modeling after the 1968 Olympics, and since then has dated an array of eligibles, ranging from basketball’s then-single Bill Bradley (“he thinks I’m a visionary”) to the more recent Bob Shriver, Sarge’s son. “I wanted to develop my feminine side—my feminine mystique,” she explains of what she calls her developmental period as a model. “It really paid off!”
Most of Suzy’s gung-ho efforts have. A stormy petrel on the Olympic team, where she was reprimanded for wearing a skin-tight silver ski suit, she went on to face down terrible-tempered Avery Brundage, then virtual dictator of the Olympic games. Joining Olympic sculler Jack Kelly (brother of Monaco’s Princess Grace), she formed the World Sports Foundation in 1972 which helped push through a broadening of Olympic eligibility rules, including a measure of financial assistance for athletes. Not that her zealous lobbying didn’t raise some hackles. “Aren’t you,” asked one Romanian on the International Olympic Committee, “an unscrupulous actress hired by the state to infiltrate the IOC?”
Though Suzy had done a smattering of sportscasting, it was a surprise when CBS picked her after first choice Dinah Shore proved unavailable to handle the Challenge. But not only did Suzy have the sports credentials; to the CBS eye she had “beauty, marvelous freshness and spontaneity.” From Chaffee’s viewpoint, “The series is just my cup of tea. I’ve always believed that in sports men and women can face up to their hostilities and learn to appreciate each other on different levels.”
Chaffee passionately believes that sports are good for all. “Do you know that the average 20-year-old American is about in the same shape as a 60-year-old Scandinavian?” she says with horror. Nor is she reluctant to unveil some of her feminine mystique to “get people involved in sport for fun and self-expression, not just for competition.” Last year, for instance, “to raise consciousness,” she agreed to pose in the buff (“nothing on but olive oil, like ancient Olympians”) atop a windy Sun Valley peak for a full-page color photograph in Town & Country. “Women’s libbers,” she says, “have become too intellectual and forgotten about their bodies.” (Suzy has since retired the picture because people were running off the shot on T-shirts.)
“Sure, being a chick has paid off,” Chaffee admits. “It opens the door, but then you’ve got to have substance.” Right now her principal cause is a national sports program, patterned on several successful sports-for-all European models. And what better source to bring her plea to than Jerry Ford himself. “I hit him just at the time the budget was coming up,” says Chaffee of their encounter on the slopes at Vail. “I thought we really communicated. He’s the first active sports President we’ve had since Kennedy, and he had been to China and was impressed with their program.”
Chaffee’s enthusiasm for self-expression seems boundless. Already a director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, she has sandwiched in time for est, rolfing (a deep massage technique), meditation, T’ai Chi, Silva Mind Control, poetry, hypnosis and acupuncture. Do men think of her as too aggressive? “Men who are not too sure of themselves regard me as a threat. My own brothers just accepted me in the past few months.” For the moment, then, marriage does not seem likely.
“I demand so much of myself, it’s hard to find a man who can offer me as much at I can offer him,” Chaffee says forthrightly, then adds: “I value my privacy. My ‘space’ is very important, but I’d like to find someone I could coexist with in some mutual space.”