- SEATTLE Maybe it’s the coffee buzz (or living at the foot of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains) that spurs Seattlites to play a wider variety of sports than anyone else on our list. Residents are twice as likely as the average American to go backpacking, horseback riding or skiing. They also have double-the-norm participation in racquetball and calisthenics. “I don’t know anybody here who is focused on only one sport,” says Kathy Hanson-Mack, 33, a singer who runs, skis and rock climbs. Surrounded by water, Seattle also attracts kayakers and scuba divers. And some 8,000 people bike to work every day. (Washington Kayak Club, 206-433-1983)
- WASHINGTON, D.C. The seat of our government gets off its seat regularly. The capital is one-third parkland, more than in any other city except Honolulu. Sports are played with the same determination it takes to run a superpower. “People in D.C. are very driven in their jobs,” says Susie Fahy, a 24-year-old health club manager. “They’re just as driven when it comes to their bodies.” During lunch hour, government aides rush to the gym to pump weights and go for runs along the Potomac River. All the hard work does pay off. Residents report having an average of 26.5 “healthy days” (when they feel great both mentally and physically) per month–the highest rate in the whole country. (Army 10-Miler, www.armytenmiler.com)
- PHOENIX On summer days, the temperature can soar to 110 degrees in the shade in this sizzling Sonoran Desert city. How do residents manage to get any exercise? “People here are really active in the morning,” says Tara Lefkowitz, a 31-year-old pediatrician and horseback rider. “We’re up at 5 A.M. to jog and inline skate.” Phoenix boasts 464 miles of bike paths and the nation’s biggest municipal park (the 20,000-acre South Mountain Park). It’s also a top golf destination, with more than 170 courses. All this, plus an annual average of 300 sunny days a year. (Arizona Bike Club, www.azbike club.com)
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At the ’96 Olympics, the Magnificent Seven captured gymnastics gold and won our hearts, So where are they now?
With the ankle crunch heard ’round the world, Kerri Strug and the rest of the U.S. gymnastics team known as the Magnificent Seven–Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, Shannon Miller, Jaycie Phelps, Amanda Borden and Amy Chow-vaulted into Olympic history by winning the team gold in Atlanta. It was the first time American women had accomplished the feat, and America, in turn, was smitten. Since then, the gymnasts have grown a collective 16 1/4 inches, written or been the subjects of 11 books, landed dozens of sponsorship deals and received countless marriage proposals. They’ve used their celebrity to benefit charities, schools, gyms and hospitals. All but two have retired from elite competition; Chow and Moceanu are aiming for Sydney. While the Mag Seven are no longer a team, they have undergone major life changes (puberty!) and Felicity-like soap operas. Here, an update:
DOMINIQUE MOCEANU In Atlanta, the 14-year-old became the youngest American gymnast ever to win an Olympic gold medal. (The minimum age for Olympic competition has since been raised to 16.) Injuries have kept her away from competition, but her legal battle for financial independence from her parents kept her in the spotlight. Press speculation on the causes of the “divorce” ranged from her father’s misuse of her funds to reports that he tried to hire a hit man to kill her coach. Moceanu won the court dispute last April and recently began to reconcile with her family. “If I need help, I know my parents are there for me,” says Moceanu, who now lives at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “But they understand my life is my life and that I’m in charge of my own decisions.”
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We’re a land of immigrants–that goes for athletes too. A crop of talented new citizens hope to bring home Olympic gold for the U.S.
A life-size bronze statue of Yueling Chen, the first Asian woman to win a track-and-field gold medal in the Olympic Games, stands in the town square of Tie Ling, a rural town in northeast China. Typically, such monuments are reserved for Chairman Mao or for the nation’s other deceased heroes, not for a plucky, ponytailed 19-year-old racewalker in a singlet and shorts.
When Chen returned from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 with a historic medal in the inaugural 10K racewalk, she became an instant celebrity-Mary Lou, Tara and Mia all rolled into one. Parades welcomed her; the government showered her with cash and gifts, which she shared with her seven siblings and parents, who are retired farmers. Two documentaries, viewed by an estimated 900 million people, were made about her life. When the statue of Chen was erected in Tie Ling, so many admirers tried to touch it that officials had to put up a protective fence to keep the detail from being rubbed bare.
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