Bobsledding prince is a royal treat
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

PARK CITY, Utah -- According to his official Olympic biography, his full name is Prince Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, Hereditary Prince of Monaco, Marquis of Baux. But a bobsledder once told me that Prince Albert's nickname on the World Cup circuit is Freak Daddy, and that he likes to groove to the butt dance.

I think he may have been yanking my chain, though. None of the bobsledders I talked to here had ever heard the Freak Daddy nickname or the Prince's alleged passion for the butt dance.

"He's just Albert to everybody," Dutch bobsledder Arend Glas said. "Sometimes he's in the middle of the joke. And sometimes he's the one making the joke. He's just a great guy. He called me on Christmas twice. He just wanted to chat and say, 'Merry Christmas.' "

The great thing about the Olympic bobsled track is you always meet so many interesting people there. There are the Jamaicans, of course. There is Hungarian bobsledder Ildiko Strehli, a two-time breast cancer survivor. There are the Greek and the Armenian sledders, who are from Chicago and San Jose, respectively. There is American Todd Hays, the former kickboxer and ultimate fighter.

And then there is the Prince.

Prince Albert has competed in the bobsled in each Olympics since 1988, but he may be making his final appearance as an athlete Friday. He says he pulled his right hamstring last week and is questionable for Friday's opening heats in the four-man bobsled. He won't rule out coming back for a sixth Olympics in 2006, but by then he'll be nearly 48 and possibly ruling his country as king.

Judy Shea, Prince Albert, Jim Shea
Regular guy Prince Albert, center, hangs with U.S. skeleton gold medalist Jim Shea, right, and Shea's mother, Judy.
"It's true that I've said I would retire several times, so I'm not going to say anything at this point," the Prince said. "But I'm pretty sure we're nearing the end."

As he always does at the Olympics, the Prince stays in the athletes village, which normally serve as the student dorms for the University of Utah. "I think it's a must. It's part of the Olympic experience," he said. "Those who aren't staying there are missing an important part of the experience."

Great, that's great. But tell us, what's the difference between your dorm room and your bedroom at the palace?

"Funnily enough, it doesn't differ so much in size," he said with a laugh. "But there are a few different items on the wall."

Yeah, like the Keep on Trucking blacklight posters.

"There are two differences between my room (and the other athletes')," he said. "I didn't ask for a TV, but they put one in there anyway, which is nice. And then I have a phone because obviously when people need to reach me, they can."

Which is convenient, except when IOC president Jacques Rogge places a prank call at four in the morning and asks, "Do you have Prince Albert in the can?"

The Prince may be first in line to the Monaco throne, the Grand Officer of the Lion of Senegal National Order and able to tell a subject to go stand in the line for him at the Roots store, but every sledder I've ever asked vouches for him as a good guy and a real man of the people.

Monaco MON-1 bobsled
Prince Albert in the can: Monaco's royal Olympian pilots the MON-1 sled during a training run.
"He's just like everyone else," Irish sledder Peter Donahoe said this week. "I didn't even realize he was the Prince until someone told me."

Weren't his bodyguards a clue? "I just thought they were on his team," Donahoe said. "They blend in pretty well."

Donahoe says that he and the Prince have occasionally gone out socially, and that they partied until the sun came up at the end of the Nagano Olympics.

So does the Prince pick up the tab?

"Sometimes."

Bobsledders have often noted that women tend to gather when the Prince is around. After all, could there be a better pickup line than, "Hello, I'm the Prince of Monaco. What's your sign?"

"The problem with that is the women run the other way if you say that," Donahoe said. "If you say you're the Prince of Monaco, they say, 'Oh, right,' and they run off."

Jim Caple, a senior writer for ESPN.com, is currently in Salt Lake City, uncovering the wild and wacky side of the Winter Olympic Games for Page 2.





FULL MONTE CARLO

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