A walk around the campus in Madison paints a compelling picture of the revered status she still holds at Wisconsin.
Inside the Kohl Center, where the Wisconsin basketball team plays, Favor Hamilton is remembered on a long wall near the entrance commemorating “great moments in athletics history.”
In another area, where the trophy awarded to her as the 1989-1990 Collegiate Woman of the Year is on display, a plaque beneath it reads, “There’s only one Suzy.” Favor Hamilton is also singled out on the university’s Web site describing the displays, describing her as “incomparable.”
However, when Favor Hamilton was in school, according to two people who knew her then, she was generally regarded as shy and unassuming. Despite that, she had ways of grabbing attention that now have an odd resonance. She was sporadically injured and unable to practice on the track, so to get her cardio work in, she would swim laps in the pool while the men’s team was practicing. While one-piece suits were the norm for women training in an athletic environment, Favor Hamilton would peel off into a head-turning, two-piece bikini.
It was not the last time Favor Hamilton would garner attention for her looks during a career that spanned three Olympics.
She had modeling contracts and did a photo shoot for the Suzy Favor Hamilton 1997 calendar, which labels her as a “Three-time Olympian ... and more.”
In 2000, she starred in a Nike commercial that is a send-up of horror movies. Dressed in a sports bra and running shorts, Favor Hamilton is stalked through the woods by a chainsaw-wielding zombie, but escapes by simply outrunning him. Message: “Why sport? You’ll live longer.”
The commercial ran the same year as her last appearance at the Olympics.
She ran at those games to honor her brother, Dan, who committed suicide in 1999. In the 1500m final, Favor Hamilton was leading the race with 200m to go. However, with runners starting to pass her, she told the Journal Sentinel she intentionally fell, ashamed she couldn’t win a medal to honor her brother.
“Coming around that corner the anxiety gripped me so bad,” she said. “It told my brain, ‘Just fall. That’s the easiest solution. Just fall, and this all will go away.’ That was the only way out.”’
In an interview with The Smoking Gun about her double life, Favor Hamilton said that as a world-class runner she started to believe she was invincible and brought up Tiger Woods, saying, “I mean, he’s the biggest athlete ever. He obviously thought he could never get caught.”
Though Woods and Favor Hamilton experienced far different levels of success and fame, Teitelbaum said their experiences are not so far removed.
“There’s the sense of entitlement, grandiosity, the idea you can do whatever you want without worrying about consequences,” he said. “She needed to have some way to express some other side of herself that didn’t feel as clean or wonderful or upstanding as she appeared to be.”
While living the secret life, though, Favor Hamilton could not fight the temptation to tell some of her clients who she really was. She believes one of those clients eventually “outed” her — and now her alias is no longer a secret.