Olympic Stories

Bonnie Blair A True Speedskating Legend

Bonnie Blair  A True Speedskating Legend

Born in Cornwall, New York on March 18, 1964, Bonnie Kathleen Blair is a retired American speedskater who had a fantastic career. Over a span of 4 Olympics, Blair won 5 gold medals and a single bronze. She became not only a terrific professional skater, but a record-setting, trailblazing woman whose career path was followed by many after her dominant reign ended.

While Blair would ultimately compete in multiple Olympic appearances, it was her 1988 performance at the Calgary Winter Games in Canada that earned her a spot on the Mount Olympus of world-class athletes.

The Record-Setting 1988 Performance

When looking back at the early years of a professional athlete, it’s easy to say that a person was destined for greatness. While this could easily be said of Bonnie Blair, the fact of the matter is that it was a rough road to 1988.

Blair started skating at the incredibly young age of 4, entering and winning her first legitimate competition at only 7 years old. After graduating from high school, Blair moved to Milwaukee to train with the U.S.’s national speedskating team, where she would become a true standout amongst other trained, gifted athletes.

Her first try at the Olympics was in 1984, appearing in the Sarajevo Games, where Blair would fail to win a medal. In fact, her performance was very disappointing, finishing 8th overall in the 500 meter event. Refocused and intent on performing better, Blair increased her training and began to take speedskating more seriously. She was ready for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, but outside of America few gave her a chance to succeed.

Blair would compete in 2 events in Calgary, the 500 meter and the 1,000 meter Women’s Speedskating races. In order for Blair to achieve success, however, she would first have to deal with two of the best skaters in world history, both of whom hailed from East Germany (GDR) – Christa Rothenburger and Karin Enke.

In the 1984 Games, in the 500m, Rothenburger and Enke had finished 1st and 2nd respectively, with Blair finishing 8th, and in the four years between games, the two Germans only got better. Christa’s Gold-winning time of 41.02 in the ’84 Games was incredibly impressive, and to make matters worse, she was skating even faster in ’88. So Blair not only had to compete better than in ’84, she would have to skate nearly 3 full seconds faster. To say she was a long shot would be understating the reality.

Blair was on top of her game when the Olympics rolled around, however. She was the only American in the 500m field, which featured her old East German rivals, plus a third German, Angela Stahnke, as well as an impressive Canadian, Shelly Rhead, and a very fast Japanese skater, Seiko Hashimoto.

From the warm-ups for the 500m, it was clear Blair was on another level. Her steely demeanor actually stood as intimidating to the competition. Bonnie Blair broke off the line with blazing speeds and did not relent. Rothenburger and Karin were also tearing through the field, with Christa right on Blair’s heels. But when it was said and done, Blair finished with a time of 39.10, earning her a new World Record and a Gold medal. Christa’s time was 39.12, which was nearly 2 full seconds better than 1984, but still not good enough to defeat Blair.

Blair also won the bronze in Calgary that year for the 1,000 meter, but taking home Olympic Gold, plus a World Record, plus becoming the first woman ever to break the 39-second mark – she was on top of the world.

In Albertville in 1992, and in Lillehammer in 1994, Blair would take home gold medals in the 500m and 1,000m, becoming the most dominant speedskater in that span. Blair is remembered today for her overall career, and especially the ’92 Winter Games, but it was the ’88 Games in Calgary that made her such a star. She not only defeated an exceedingly difficult field, but dominated every time to be posted previously in the history of women’s speedskating.

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