Blair sets gold standard LILLEHAMMER '94

February 20, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- With Bonnie Blair, there is no tragedy, no drama, no angst on ice.

There is only history.

Yesterday she showed up at speed skating's new mecca -- an indoor rink topped by the upturned hull of a Viking ship. In the crowd were 60 of her relatives and friends who wore matching sweat shirts and matching gold hats that read "Go, Bonnie, Gold."

On the ice, there was only one skater to watch. Blair, staying low and skating true, methodically overwhelming the field in the women's 500 meters at the Winter Olympics.

It was her third consecutive gold medal in the 500 -- a record -- and her fourth gold overall, elevating her into a new class of U.S. Olympians.

Blair joined track star Evelyn Ashford, swimmer Janet Evans and diver Pat McCormick as the only American women with four Olympic golds.

"I really don't think about history until it's over with," Blair said.

But history keeps following her around.

She shows up every few years and America sits up and takes notice of this shy woman with a flat Midwestern accent and this tough, little sport where grit counts a lot more than glitter.

Successful figure skaters earn millions. Speed skaters earn first-place prizes of $300 on the World Cup circuit. But Blair doesn't mind.

"I didn't get into the sport for the money," she said. "I got into it because I love it."

She turns 30 next month and vows that after one more season of racing, she wants to get on with the rest of her life.

"I'd like to go back to college," she said. "I've got nieces and nephews who will get their degrees before I do.

"This has been a good life. But at a certain point, it will be time to walk away."

Unlike Michael Jordan, she has no urge to try another sport. "I'm a one-sport person," she said.

She had little choice in the matter, put on the ice at age 2 by a family so obsessed with the sport that her father was at a rink the day she was born.

In this sport, there is simply nobody in Blair's class. Compact and powerful at 5 feet 4, 130 pounds, she never makes a mistake in a big race.

"I keep telling myself to relax and skate like it's any other race," she said. But in her other races, "I make believe that I am in the Olympics."

It is the ability to remain focused and under control that has enabled Blair to remain on top for so long.

This had been a difficult week for her. Monday, she was in the stands when Dan Jansen faded to eighth in the men's 500. She cried. And fled the building.

Friday, overcome with anxiety, she stayed away from Jansen's final Olympic race, watching on television as her friend finally won the gold.

"That was a special race, for him, for our team, for all of America," she said.

So she arrived at the Olympic speed skating hall yesterday relaxed and confident.

Jansen had his first gold; she was after her fourth gold, and fifth Olympic medal overall.

Then, she was a picture of controlled precision in her sprint around the oval, never a misstep, never a wasted motion, crossing the finish in 39.25 seconds.

Canada's Susan Auch took the silver. Germany's Franziska Schenk earned the bronze.

"Bonnie is the best at the moment," Auch said.

Apparently, a moment can stretch six years.

Consider: Schenk was 13 and in her first year of competitive skating when Blair won two golds in 1988 in Calgary, Alberta.

"Everyone expects it [a Blair victory]," Schenk said. "She was the favorite. She won nearly all the races this year. No one expected another girl to win."

But Blair takes no chances.

"It's the Olympics and anything can happen," she said "People can come out of nowhere and win. Favorites can fall."

But when Blair races, what usually happens is this: she wins and a national anthem is played.

On the victory podium, her eyes shimmering with tears, she sang "The Star Spangled Banner."

"It's never routine, let me tell you," she said. "Once you think it's routine, that's when it's taken away from you, really quick."



The top medal winners in U.S. Winter Olympic history:

No. Athlete, sport .. .. .. .. .. G .. .. S .. .. B

5 .. Eric Heiden,.. .. .. .. .. ..5 .. .. 0 .. .. 0

.. ..speed skating

5 .. Bonnie Blair, .. .. .. .. .. 4 .. .. 0 .. .. 1

. .. speed skating

4 .. Dianne Holum, .. .. .. .. .. 1 .. .. 2 .. .. 1

. .. speed skating

3 .. Pat Martin, .. .. .. .. .. ..1 .. .. 2 .. .. 0

.. .. bobsled

3 .. John Heaton, .. .. .. .. .. 0 .. .. 2 .. .. 1

. .. bobsled-cresta

3 .. Sheila Young, .. .. .. .. ..1 .. .. 1 .. .. 1

. .. speed skating

3 .. Leah Poulos Mueller, .. .. 0 .. .. 3 .. .. 0

.. .. speed skating

3 .. Beatrix Loughren, .. .. .. 0 .. .. 2 .. .. 1

. .. figure skating

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