Hunyady's sacrifices pay off LILLEHAMMER 94

February 22, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- So, was it worth it?

All the tears, all the pain and finally, all the joy on a leaping, spinning victory lap, and speed skater Emese Hunyady still had trouble coming to grips with that one question.

Born in Budapest, living in Vienna, Austria's first Olympic speed skating gold medalist in the women's 1,500 meters could hardly put into words the emotion she felt yesterday.

"So long, for so many years, only speed skating," she said. "Nothing else."

No movies. No dances. No trips to the museum.

Just skating.

It was a wondrous yet somehow sad day for Hunyady.

She streaked across 1,500 meters in 2:02.19, beating a field that included American Bonnie Blair, who finished fourth.

She performed push-ups of delight on the ice, wept tears of joy on a victory podium, and then reverted to her days as a figure skater by spinning and leaping across the oval, while holding an Austrian flag aloft.

"For artistic impression, 6.0, 6.0," shouted the track announcer.

"I was waiting for this medal for so long," said Hunyady, who competed in the 1984 Olympics for Hungary. "I am so happy."

While Hunyady wept tears of joy, there were tears of defeat for Gunda Niemann, the gold-medal favorite from Germany who wobbled in third.

Niemann, who fell during the 3,000, was uncertain on her turns and tentative down the stretch.

"There was nothing more that I could do," Niemann said.

Sneaking in for the silver -- and also knocking Blair from the medal podium -- was Svetlana Fedotkina of Russia.

"This is a real surprise for me," said Fedotkina, who has been on the World Cup circuit for only two years.

Blair, the fastest female speed skating sprinter on earth, faded down the stretch.

But it wasn't a surprise.

In a race that was 500 meters too far, Blair finished fourth in a personal and American best of 2:03.44.

"I died on the last lap," said Blair, bidding to become America's most decorated winter Olympian.

Blair was upbeat about her performance, which came two days after she won her fourth career gold medal, in the 500.

The 1,500 never has been her strongest race. She is ranked 11th on the World Cup circuit in the event, after finishing the last two years eighth overall.

She was on target for a medal until the final lap, when she faded badly and lost a second to the leaders.

"I knew it would be real close, but I've been real strong," Blair said. "So I thought it was worth a chance to race."

Blair still has one race left the Games, tomorrow's 1,000, and could equal Eric Heiden's American record of five career Olympic golds.

A top-three finish would make Blair, who has a bronze in her medal collection, America's leading Winter Olympian with six medals overall.

"The bronze in this race would have been real special," Blair said. "But it didn't happen, and that's all right."

Besides, the absence of Blair on the victory podium gave the world a chance to focus on Hunyady, a red-haired, red-faced practical joker who actually was asked after the race if she were a clown.

"No," she said. "I am no clown."

Hunyady, 27, defected from Hungary in 1985 to join her coach in Vienna. She spent two years "being more hungry than anything else," she said, before landing a job in a Vienna bank.

She won a bronze medal in the 3,000 at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. She took the silver at the same distance last week.

She keeps in close contact with her mother, who lives in Budapest, but hates to have her watch the races "because she is always so nervous."

After the race, she didn't even attempt to call her mother.

"It is not possible to phone her," she said. "She speaks with all of Budapest. How many live there? Two million? And 1 million are my mother's friends and relatives."

There are friends and relatives that Hunyady would like to see. But she will continue to skate on a fast track.

Asked what she would do if she had a daughter who wanted to skate, Hunyady shook her head slowly from side to side.

"I close the door," she said. "Don't come in."

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