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ON THE BEACH / ERIK HAMILTON AND WENDY WITHERSPOON

Muller Prefers to Be Alone for the Ride

October 14, 1996|ERIK HAMILTON and WENDY WITHERSPOON

It takes a unique man to spend hours alone on the water, moving the long oars of a one-man boat methodically through the waves.

It takes a man who is not afraid.

Consider Xeno Muller.

Muller, a world-class rower who trains at the Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach, has never been one to flow with the tide of popular opinion. Instead, he creates his own current.

"[People] look at me and think that I am one strange, whatever you want to call me," he said.

At Lake Lanier, Ga., this summer, his personality came through in a burst of power as he won an Olympic gold medal in the single sculls for his native Switzerland. It was Switzerland's first gold medal in an Olympic rowing event since 1928.

The single sculls is the glamour event of the rowing world--just the individual against the water. And it's perfect for someone like Xeno.

"You really have to be that kind of way to be that successful in the single," said Steve Morris, Muller's coach and director of the Newport Aquatic Center. "But I chalk it up to a lot of passion, which makes him go fast. And it's very entertaining for me."

One British soft drink company recently hired Muller for a promotion because of his personality.

Said Muller: "They said, 'Xeno, you polarize people. They either like you or they don't like you, and that's why we like you.' "

In addition to being controversial, Muller is unpredictable. Most amateur athletes welcome media exposure because it can bring sponsor dollars. Muller initially balked at a reporter's request for a meeting before granting a short--but spirited--phone interview. He refused to have his photo taken.

Solitude has been elusive for Muller since winning the gold medal, he explained, and he needs serenity to row well.

"I want to keep my peace and quiet around me," he said. "No one will care about fourth place at the World Championships. You're gone."

Muller was born in Switzerland, but moved with his family to Spain and then to Germany before settling in France when he was still a young boy. He began rowing on the Seine when he was 13 and won at the 1990 junior World Championships in France.

His first name, Xeno, was fitting for the well-traveled tyke--it means "foreign" in Greek.

"In every country, I was always a foreigner," said Muller, who speaks four languages.

Muller first came to the United States to row for the men's team at Brown University. He led the Bears' freshmen eight boat to a national title in 1992.

"It was the first time I ever got into a team," he said. "I loved every second of it."

That summer in Barcelona, Muller injured his back lifting a boat and missed qualifying for the Olympic final in the single sculls by less than a second.

Muller returned to Brown and led the Bears' varsity eight to the 1993 national title. He did not compete for the Brown team as a junior, but attended school and trained in the single on his own.

The result was a spectacular 1994 season. He won the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in London, set a world record in Lucerne and won a silver medal at the World Championships in Indianapolis.

After graduating in 1995, Xeno moved to Newport Beach to train at the center. He enjoys the warm climate, which enables him to train year-round on the water.

Of all the countries he has called home, Muller feels most comfortable in the United States.

"There is space for me in the United States, but I don't think there is space for me in Europe," he said.

Never did Muller's peripatetic background appear more poignantly than after he finished the Lake Lanier course in 6:44.85 last summer.

"There I was standing on the little dock and my flag goes up and there is this beautiful anthem," he said.

Muller barely recognized Switzerland's national anthem, which was being played in honor of his gold medal. In an endearing goof, he placed his hand over his heart and smiled--actions which betrayed an American allegiance.

Muller, who last month married Erin Drover, another rower at the center, currently is preparing for the 2000 Games in Sydney.

"I think I still have a few juicy years in front of me," he said.

Muller will compete in the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival, Nov. 10, beginning at 7 a.m. at Newport Harbor.

*

Kelly Slater of Cocoa Beach, Fla., has won his third consecutive world surfing title after finishing ninth earlier this month in the Coca-Cola Figueira Pro in Figueira De Foz, Portugal.

Slater, who was just shy of the points needed to win the title before the Portugal event, had to place ninth or better. For Slater, this is his fourth title.

And if it wasn't enough that he has won his third World Championship, it seems Slater has tied the record for the longest winning streak in surfing history, which is held by Tom Carrol and Tom Curren.

On the Beach will run monthly during the school year. Readers are encouraged to suggest items. Hamilton and Witherspoon can be reached at (714) 966-5904 or fax (714) 966-5663.

*

Slater Part II: And if it wasn't enough that he has won his third World Championship, it seems Slater has tied the record for the longest winning streak in surfing history, which is held by Tom Carrol and Tom Curren.

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