By a Nick of Time, Blair Skates Into History
By Angus Phillips
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 15, 1992; Page G1
Her hairbreadth victory by two-hundredths of a second in the 1,000-meter speed skating event gave Blair two golds for these Games she won the 500-meter race on Monday to add to the one she took in the 500 meters at Calgary in 1988.
But save some of the credit for her family, who sneaked into an Olympic venue this morning to send her a computer Valentine, lest she neglect any basics. "Take your skate guards off!" cautioned sister Mary. "Swing those arms!" said brother Rob. "Turn left!" said sister Susie.
"We've been hearing that all our lives," laughed Susie today as the speed skating Blairs basked in the glory of Bonnie's finest hour on the long blades. "We didn't want her to forget."
Blair swung her arms and turned left just long and hard enough to score her second triumph in the XVI Winter Games by the slimmest of margins "just by the hair of my chin," as she put it.
It was far from the easy victory many expected.
Blair hadn't lost a race at 500 or 1,000 meters all year, but her form here over the last week grew ragged as she battled ice grown mushy in unseasonably warm weather. "As a power skater she needs to glide," said two-time Olympian Diane Holum, who watched from the sidelines, "and she's not getting the glide she needs."
Conditions were so unfavorable Wednesday that Blair teetered in 21st in the 1,500-meter race, prompting widespread worry about today's race. Still, Holum and others familiar with Blair's fierce determination reckoned she'd uncork one on the shorter course.
"One thing about Bonnie," said her mother, Eleanor, who watched amid half a hundred cheering Blair backers in the grandstand, "when she gets to the starting line she'll do the best she can, every time."
Blair's best turned out to be barely enough to squeak by China's Qiaobo Ye, who had been second also in the 500 meters on Monday, but by a more comfortable 18/100ths of a second that time. Both Ye and Blair lunged for the finish near exhaustion in the longer race today, but Blair's lunge was a skate-blade quicker.
Blair said she knew she'd done well when she crossed the line, though she admitted she'd flagged over the final 200 meters. But was it going to be good enough?
"I knew Monique [Garbrecht, the German skater who won the bronze] and Qiabo were still to come, and they were the pair of the day. We all knew that the minute we saw the pairing sheets. So that meant waiting," said Blair.
When Ye crossed with a desperate final thrust two pairs later, Blair finally could raise her arms in triumph and accept the back-pats of the coach she helped recruit away from the German team last spring, Peter Mueller, a gold medalist for the United States in 1976.
Did she know then that she'd made history with the three golds? "Actually, a reporter told me about that this afternoon," said the self-effacing 27-year-old from Champaign, Ill. "I didn't know about it before, but it's definitely a nice honor to have and I'm definitely proud to be able to bring home some more gold for the U.S."
Blair's time of 1 minute 21.90 seconds posed no threat to the world record of 1:17.65 set by Christa Rothenburger four years ago at the Calgary Olympics, when Blair took a third in the 1,000 for the bronze medal. But conditions here were nothing like the slippery-smooth indoor surface in Canada, and Rothenburger herself, now married and named Luding, managed only a 1:23.06 to finish back in the pack.
Mueller, gold medalist at 1,000 meters, was sounding alarms about Blair's prospects right up to race time. "She's not in her best form," said the coach at a workout today. "She's working real hard for everything she's doing here. When she's in top form she can destroy the field but even if she's not, she still can win because she's so tough.
"It won't be easy for us today," Mueller warned, "but sometimes when you're in that spot, you focus a little harder and skate a better race. She's been around long enough to know that and find a way to get through."
Indeed, Blair said her principal reaction to today's result was "relief." She's finished skating here now, and said her first order of business is to celebrate with her family, then head for the oval Saturday to watch longtime training partner Dan Jansen shoot for gold in the men's 500.
Blair's capture of a gold and bronze at Calgary ago led to much ruminating in the press about the money she'd likely make from product endorsements and public appearances. But Blair's bubble of fame didn't stay inflated long then, and there's been no such speculating here.
Frankly, she said, what she really likes to do best is skate and train anyway. She keeps herself going by establishing little temporary goals along the way to do better on each track than she did last time around, to beat the clock, to skate a little closer to the times of the men she trains with, Jansen and teammate Nick Thometz.
"But basically," said Blair, "I just love what I'm doing. Even last year, when I had a bad season, I still enjoyed skating every day."
So it's back to her old, familiar grind: Skate guards off; swing those arms; turn left.
If it sounds dull, maybe it is. It wasn't dull tonight.
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