Blair, Bonnie Kathleen

Blair, Bonnie Kathleen
▪ 1995

      After her career-topping performances in 1994, U.S. speed skater Bonnie Blair was hailed as the most successful American woman in Olympic Games history. At 19 she first gained acclaim by winning the world overall short-track title in 1986 at Chamonix, France, and a year later she twice clocked the world-record time for the 500 m on the standard circuit.

      Blair's era of Olympic glory began in 1988 at Calgary, Alta., when she not only won the 500 m with a time that remained on the record books for the next two Games but also took third place in the 1,000 m. Specializing as a sprinter, she won the world sprint championship with a record points score in 1989 at Heerenveen, Neth., and recaptured the title at Calgary in 1994, again with record aggregate points. On March 26, during the latter tournament, she became the first woman to skate 500 m in less than 39 seconds.

      On the Hamar track near Lillehammer, Norway, Blair in 1994 successfully defended her 1,000-m title to win the fifth Olympic gold medal of her career, surpassing the previous U.S. women's Olympic record of four gold medals held jointly by track sprinter Evelyn Ashford, swimmer Janet Evans, and diver Pat McCormick. She achieved this by winning the 500 m at three consecutive Games and the 1,000 m twice. A 1,000-m bronze at Calgary in 1988 brought her total Olympic medals tally to six. Blair's 500-m success in 1994 made her the only speed skater of either sex to have won the same event in three successive Olympics.

      Blair was born at Cornwall, N.Y., on March 18, 1964. She was coached mainly by Nick Thometz, who was also an Olympic speed skater. Her height of 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) and weight of 60 kg (132 lb) gave her a slender appearance that masked a well-developed strength in calves and thighs. Her commendably smooth motion usually seemed almost silent, with what sound the skating strokes emitted muffled by the roar of the crowd. Moving about a minute a mile faster than a track athlete (a speed skater being the fastest human over level ground), Blair learned how to counter the extra wind resistance to best advantage with an accentuated crouching, streamlined, gliding style. Her graceful body roll with pronounced lean even at top speed was what her well-informed fans best appreciated. (HOWARD BASS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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