Blair earns high five in Olympic farewell LILLEHAMMER '94

February 24, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- This is what it is like to race against Bonnie Blair:

"It's hard to come in first," Canada's Susan Auch said.

"She's like Carl Lewis," American Chantal Bailey said.

"Bonnie is the best," Germany's Anke Baier said.

Yesterday, was Bonnie Blair Appreciation Day at the Winter Olympics.

She raced. She won the 1,000 meters. She made history. In the last sprint of her last Winter Olympics, Blair held nothing back.

She waved her arms as she entered the final turn, showing her foes that she was willing to go the extra meter for a gold.

And as she crossed the finish line, she didn't smile. She just looked at the clock and raised her right arm. "I will remember all the days at the Olympics," she said.

Maybe 10 or 20 years from now, America and the world of speed skating will appreciate Blair's accomplishments.

All she ever does is win. And when she capped her career by winning the 1,000-meter speed skating final, she became the most decorated female American Olympian.

The gold was the fifth of her career, enabling her to surpass sprinter Evelyn Ashford, diver Pat McCormick and swimmer Janet Evans. She also tied speed skater Eric Heiden for most golds won by a U.S. Winter Olympian.

With a bronze from 1988, her six medals overall put her ahead of Heiden for most winter medals won by an America. "I definitely would never have dreamed of this," Blair said.

Somehow, though, the girl from Champaign, Ill., who used to sneak into the local rink for practices, grew up to become the greatest American female Olympian of all.

Blair always has had difficulty explaining why she has been so good for so long. She credits technique and talent and family.

But the word she fails to mention may be closer to the truth: heart.

Blair simply refuses to lose.

"You have to have the right mind-set," she said.

Heiden said that Blair is focused on one thing: winning. "She's a greatathlete," he said. "To be a sprinter, you've got to have the right parents, too. It's something you're born to do. And she has to be motivated year after year. The other skaters say, 'Bonnie is skating. Who will get second?' "

Blair started winning Olympic golds in 1988 when the East Germans were dominant, and she continued to beat all comers from Calgary to Albertville to Norway.

Not bad for someone who remembers "feeling like I had won the gold," after an eighth-place performance in 1984 in Sarajevo.

She plans to skate one more season and retire after the 1994 World Championships in Milwaukee. She wants to keep her links with the Olympics, she says, "because it will be hard to stay away totally."

Blair made an effort to remember the small details of her last race.

She prepared as she always does, eating a peanut butter sandwich and singing "When The Saints Go Marching In." She went to the start line with one thing on her mind: get out fast in the first 600 meters.

It was fitting that in her last race she would be matched against one of her fiercest rivals, China's Ye Qiaobo. For years, Blair stated that Ye was a tainted athlete for being banished on the eve of the 1988 Olympics for taking a performance-enhancing drug.

Yesterday, Blair used her rival as a target, chasing her down and winning the heat in 1:18.74. But she also pulled Ye to the bronze, while Germany's Baier claimed the silver.

On the podium, Blair shook Ye's hand. Then, all three medalists hugged as they posed for pictures.

Then, Blair took a last victory lap, an American flag in her right hand, a "Go Bonnie Gold" cap on her head, the gold medal around her neck.

In the stands, Blair's family and friends, some 60 strong, cheered.

"I know she is churning inside," said Blair's mother, Eleanor. "She knows how to cry. Go to a sentimental movie with her, and you'll see."

Later yesterday, Blair's eyes shimmered with tears. When she hugged her mother before her final Olympic post-race news conference, she wept.

"This Olympics is almost a little sad," Blair said. "It is my final Olympics. There are a lot of good memories."

But the best memory of all may be this: Blair on a final sprint, racing hard, racing fast, and racing free.

BLAIR'S MEDALS

The medals won by speed skater Bonnie Blair, who became the winningest U.S. athlete in Winter Olympic history yesterday:

Gold: 500 meters, Feb. 22, 1988, Calgary (world record).

Bronze: 1,000 meters, Feb. 26, 1988, Calgary.

Gold: 500 meters, Feb. 10, 1992, Albertville.

Gold: 1,000 meters, Feb. 12, 1992, Albertville.

Gold: 500 meters, Feb. 19, 1994, Lillehammer.

Gold: 1,000 meters, yesterday, Lillehammer.

MINING MEDALS

F: The top medal winners in U.S. Winter Olympics history:

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

6 .. ....Bonnie Blair, .. .. .. ... .. .. . .. ..5 0 1

.. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .speed skating

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

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..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

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.