Exit Interview: Allison Baver

The Reading speed skater goes for gold in the Vancouver Olympics

A YEAR AGO, short-track speed skater Allison Baver was slumped on the ice with her tibia — and her dreams of winning gold in Vancouver — in pieces. Seven months later, the 29-year-old made a miraculous comeback, qualifying for her third Olympics and finding time to pose half-naked in a fitness magazine. Take that, broken leg! Baver put her training schedule on hold to discuss her roller-coaster year, getting dissed by the Sixers, and the unlikely patron saint of her sport, Stephen Colbert.

Love that you’re still representing the 610 with your cell-phone number. [laughs] I refuse to change it. It’s like Sex and the City when Sarah Jessica Parker refused to give up her old New York area code.

You competed in the National Roller Skating Championships in Philly when you were a kid. Please give me some embarrassing details. Isn’t it awesome? My coach had competed at world championships. I’d never left Pennsylvania. We went to Wildwood and stuff, but the world? So I really wanted to do it. Had that roller-skating competition not been in Philadelphia, I often wonder what path I would have taken; I don’t know if my parents would have driven to California. I also cheerleaded in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade. [laughs] I was actually really good.

That leads me to what was perhaps your biggest disappointment as an athlete: auditioning for the Sixers dance team and missing the cut. What happened? [laughs] I was really mad. It was a little political. I’m a really good dancer. The coach had a studio outside Philadelphia, so I kinda got the feeling that she had an eye for those girls. I didn’t brush up on my jazz before I got there, so I was cut in the first round.

You had a nasty accident during one of your first speed skating practices, right? It was a disaster. When I fell, I was winning — have to add that — and someone jumped over me and cut through my helmet from my hairline down to my cheek. There was blood everywhere. I looked in the mirror and it was like, “Okay, that’s my bone on my forehead.” I had 45 stitches.

Last year, you broke your tibia in a crash. Did you think you’d blown your shot to make the Olympics? That was really scary. You realize all your hard work could be gone in a split second. My parents picked me up at the airport in a wheelchair. I just started crying. The physician said, “We see this type of injury when people get run over by garbage trucks. You may never be able to walk again, never mind skate the Olympic trials.” I wasn’t able to put both feet on the ground for about three months. I was in rehab for seven or eight hours a day — learning to balance on one leg, picking up marbles with my feet. I was so happy at the trials. You have no idea.