Blair's life still a blur in retirement Decorated U.S. Olympian glides into Columbia today

September 27, 1997|By Brant James | Brant James,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Bonnie Blair grew used to a whirlwind existence as an Olympic speed skater, where life is lived in 39-second increments, and it's hard to enjoy the scenery for blur.

Two years after retiring with five gold medals as the most decorated female American Olympian ever, Blair has not broken her breakneck pace, skating through the motivational speaker circuit and endorsement arena as one of the most successful ex-Olympians.

"This fits some people's lifestyles and personalities, and doesn't work for others," Blair said. "I came from a big family where if you didn't speak up, you didn't get heard, so for me it seemed natural, and luckily, I've been able to turn this into a great career."

Blair's near nonstop tour stops at Columbia's Gateway Industrial Park today for the Maryland In-Line Skate Festival, where she begins a promotional campaign for Fila the Sparks-based sports apparel company that has sponsored the event for two years.

It's her first trip to the area since she presented Cal Ripken a skating suit in a ceremony after he tied Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record two years ago.

Fila signed Blair -- voted the most popular female Olympian ever in a 1996 USA Today poll -- to an endorsement deal in July in preparation for its launching of an in-line blade line this December.

"Bonnie's America's little sweetheart," FILA director of hardgoods Tony Bender said. "She's credible, sincere, approachable -- everything you'd want in a [spokeswoman]."

And with demographics showing females comprise an ever-growing percentage of the 30 million-plus in-line skater community, Blair was a perfect fit, Bender said.

Blair said she never knew her skating career would open such business opportunities, especially since many of her colleagues got nothing more than their pictures on the cover of a Wheaties box. She began speaking to school groups in 1992, and by 1994 she had begun the professional circuit.

"I never thought this was possible," she said. "An Olympic athlete's limelight is short-lived. A gold medal is no guarantee of becoming known, and I knew that. If I had gotten into this for the business side later, I should have been a figure skater or something.

Blair says she misses the competition but has no desire to return or coach. She lives the sport now through her husband of one year, Dave Cruikshank, a current American Olympian. The couple's life is made somewhat easier, she said, by their extensive travel schedule. No one is ever home waiting for the other.

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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