Olympic Stories

Bonnie Blair - The Winter Olympian of the Century

Bonnie Blair - The Winter Olympian of the CenturyOver the last century there have been many women who have changed the course of history, both in sports as well as other arenas. These kinds of strides have always symbolized a great step forward for women, keep in mind that back then they did not have the rights that they do now.

Bonnie Blair proved that women could indeed run fast like men and she eventually joined the ranks of Wilma Rudolph in the speed hall of fame. She had poise, strength and endurance far beyond the abilities of most men.

Bonnie Kathleen Blair was born on March 18, 1964. Although born in Cornwall, New York, she spent her childhood in Champaign, Illinois. Bonnie started skating when she was only two years old, and she was not the only talented athlete in her family. Four of her five siblings went on to win national speed skating titles though none of them achieved her level of success.

Bonnie Blair was very sound in her skating technique. She was an expert and some even declare that she might actually have been one of the best and most sound of skaters who ever represented the United States.

Poverty unfortunately, is often a hard taskmaster. Despite her success as a young skater in America, her family lacked the funds to send her to Europe for a chance to compete internationally.

It is a good thing that fortune can smile in different ways! Even when you are not expecting it, the best luck can come to you when you least expect it. And this is what happened to Bonnie when to her joy she found out that a friend’s father had organized a fundraising effort in her hometown that allowed her to go abroad and compete on the 1982-1983 World Cup circuit.

The young and confident Blair faced her first challenge when she appeared at her first Olympic games in Sarajevo 1984. To her great disappointment, she failed to win a single medal. But as it is often said: failure is the key to success. If Blair had given up then, we would not have had this woman who made history and became one of the greatest winter Olympians and role models of all time.

The first gold and glimpse of her genius came at the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary, Alberta. To the electrifying cheers of the audience, Blair set a new record and picked up her first gold in the 500 meters race. She finished in style beating the defender by just 0.1 seconds. Bonnie Blair also picked up a bronze in the 1000 meter race. This was a tremendous feat for an athlete who had lost 4 years ago.

In 1992 at the Albertville games, she achieved another record when she won the 500 meters and 1000 meters. Blair had now become the first woman to achieve back-to-back gold medals in the same events.

By now, the International Olympics committee had changed the rules and voted to hold the winter and summer games in alternating 4 year cycles. This rule meant that the next event was due to occur in 1994 rather than in 1996.

Blair reached the high point of her career during the Lillehammer games in Norway. She continued her winning streak by picking up the gold in the 500 meter race for the third time in a row. Her crowning glory came when she won the 1000 meters with a margin of 1.38 seconds, which was the best in the history of the Olympic winter games! She had now become the first woman to win 5 gold medals and one bronze.

Honors came thick and fast for Blair. In 1992 she won the James E. Sullivan Award and she also became the first female to win the Oscar Mathisen Award. She shared the title of sportsman of the year with Johann Olav Koss in the sports illustrated and then to top it all off the associated press selected her the best female athlete of the year in 1994.

She retired in 1995 but before doing so, she had to set another record. In her last race in the March of 1995, she set a new record in the American 1000 meters race. Starting with almost nothing, this woman had achieved glory, success and speed and she did it all in just 12 years.

The biggest honor came when Bonnie Blair was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame. To date, she remains the most decorated woman in the history of US Winter Olympics. Today, Blair is a motivational teacher teaching key concepts and showing the way and the path to success. Indeed, she has achieved an unbelievable feat and will always remain as a light to guide people and other young athletes to success.

In 2004, she was elected to the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. At the time of her induction, Blair was the most decorated United States Winter Olympian of all time with 5 gold and one bronze (she is currently second to Apolo Ohno who has 2 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze if equality of medals irrespective of colour is applied). She is married to fellow Olympic speedskater Dave Cruikshank, with whom she has a son, Grant, and daughter, Blair.

Career Highlights
  • 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games – Gold (2)
  • 1992 Albertville Olympic Games – Gold (2)
  • 1988 Calgary Olympic Games – Gold, Silver

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