Bonnie Blair finished 21st in the women's 1,500 meters yesterday on a warm day at the Olympic speed skating oval, but it turned out she was using the race as little more than a glorified practice for the 1,000 meters tomorrow.
Her coach told her to ease up on the last lap.
Blair, of Champaign, Ill., is a sprint specialist who won the gold medal in Tuesday's 500 and is favored in the 1,000. Taking on a longer distance with which she was less comfortable, she skated well for the first 700 meters, but not well enough.
"We had agreed beforehand on some times below which she would continue to skate all out, and she wasn't quite down to them," said U.S. speed skating coach Peter Mueller. "We both knew at 700 meters that it wasn't working. I called her off at 1,100. I've seen her skate better."
Her time for the first 700 meters was the second-fastest among the 33 skaters who started, but she began laboring on the backstretch of the next lap -- just about at the 1,000-meter mark.
Germany's Jacqueline Boerner won the gold medal, Germany's Gunda Niemann won the silver and Japan's Seiko Hashimoto won the bronze. The highest American finisher was Mary Docter, at 15th.
"Bonnie is not disappointed," Mueller said.
Whether Blair would skate in the 1,500 was a continuing issue for months leading up to the Games.
"I'm not sorry we tried," Mueller said. "Her sprint splits were tremendous. In a way maybe this will help prepare her for Friday. Maybe this will make her hungry again."
& Blair did not comment. Female athletes have signed a petition calling for controversial sex tests to be retained.
The chemical test used by the International Olympic Committee on female athletes to confirm the gender of female competitors and prevent men from masquerading as women was attacked as unreliable by the French doctors' ethics commission on the eve of the Games, and government ministers asked the IOC to reconsider it.
But IOC information director Michele Verdier said all female athletes at the Games had now been screened without problem.
The IAAF -- the international governing body for track and field -- conducts a physical examination of female athletes, but Verdier has said that, to protect individual rights, the IOC felt this should only be carried out when serious doubts emerged from the chemical test.
"In the air I went, 'Oh, oh, I'm supposed to be over there. Oops.' But there's no getting over there. I knew there's no way I was going to be able to pull this baby out." Injured American Kristin Krone, one of five skiers to crash in the women's combined downhill course.