Stumble doesn’t slow Blair in Reno
March 29, 2002
RENO — For arguably the most celebrated speedskater in American history, it would have been an embarrassing moment.
As Bonnie Blair was coming down the stairs in Legacy Hall at the University of Nevada to address female athletes at the school, she almost fell in a heap. But despite stumbling over several stairs, she was able to regain her balance and avoid the prat fall.
“I’m making a grand entrance,” Blair said. “I’m quick on my feet, I guess. I’m better on skates, believe me.”
Judging by how Blair’s career has gone, it may have been the first stumble of her life.
The five-time Olympic gold medalist said her love and passion for speedskating made it possible for her “to be able to continue to take it to another level.”
Blair’s Olympic career began at the 1984 Winter Olympics where she finished eighth, surpassing her goal of coming close to the top 10.
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“Immediately, tears came to my eyes,” said Blair, commenting on how happy she was about her finish.
Blair’s Olympic career took off in the 1988 Winter Olympics where she set a world record in winning the 500 meters, won a bronze in the 1,000 and placed fourth in the 1,500.
In the 1992 Winter Olympics, Blair completed a double, winning gold in the 500 and 1,000.
Then, Blair benefitted from the Winter Olympics being held just two years later and completed another double, winning the 500 and 1,000 again.
Blair admitted she may have not been able to come back for one more Winter Olympics if they weren’t held until 1996.
“Maybe I would have been done after 1992 if I had to wait for 1996,” she said.
But Blair wasn’t done after the 1994 Olympics. She couldn’t resist in competing in one more major event, the 1995 World Championships, since they were being held in her hometown of Milwaukee.
Blair went out on top. She went out as a world champion and set an American record in her last race. “I left on my own terms,” she said.
One reason why she was able to have such a long career was the support of her parents, who never forced her into anything, she said.
“It was a real gradual process,” said Blair about her development. “It wasn’t way too much, too soon. I never got burned out.”
Blair began as a short track speedskater where she was a world champion as well before devoting full-time to long track speedskating. In addition, Blair competed in cycling where she just missed qualifying for the World Championships in a photo finish that took 15 minutes to decide.
She is now a member of the U.S. Speedskating Governing Board. “I’m still very much involved in the sport,” she said. “I think had I gone and quit cold turkey, I would have had a difficult time,” Blair said.
But the realization of not training for another season came on a run in the fall following the 1995 World Championships. “In the middle of the run I just broke out crying,” she said.
At this year’s Olympics in Salt Lake City, the United States won eight long track speedskating medals, matching its highest total ever. Along with short track, the U.S. won 11 medals in speedskating.
Blair said one key to the Americans’ success is that the U.S. now has six indoor tracks, allowing speedskaters to train year-round.
Another key is increased financial support. When Blair was beginning her Olympic career, her sponsor was the local police department. Among the major sponsors of speedskating now is Nike.
“Financially it was going to be difficult for me to keep going,” she said. “Things have definitely gotten a lot better.”
Another issue that Blair addressed is the use of supplements. With drug testing, she said athletes have to be careful in the supplements that they take.
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