CALGARY -- On the victory stand, Bonnie Blair, nose red and tears streaming down her narrow face, looked like a small rust-brown wren perched between two large East German hawks. However, sometimes a small bird, even one who shakes in her moment of triumph, can fly swiftest.

How much is two one-hundredths of a second? One small birdlike heart beat, perhaps? In sports, such increments are not measures of time, but of fighting spirit. Athletes take it on faith that, at the wire, power and technique are surpassed by heart.

Or, perhaps, they believe such things because experience tells them that's where the truth lies.

"I think I just got it on guts," Blair told Eric Heiden after the race.

Even Christa Rothenburger, Blair's rival for the last three years at 500 meters, said, graciously, "I skated first. I set a world record {39.12}. Bonnie skated after. She took the challenge."

If America's arms do not go out to embrace Bonnie Blair for the rest of these Winter Olympics, then we deserve a culture of cosmetics commercials.

Every Olympics has its equivalent of a prom king and queen. It's an unofficial contest, but fascinating.

They say figure skater Katerina Witt is a lock for winter queen if she wins in figure skating. Maybe she'll wear her whips-and-chains motorcycle moll outfit.

Still, will the glamorpuss Witt, or anyone else at these Games, surpass the courageous work Blair did Monday evening or the feeling figure she cut? The 23-year-old is tangy and real and hangs out with cops. The Policeman's Benevolent Association of Champaign, Ill., is her sponsor. She likes a fight, a cry or a kiss. Her coach or her boyfriend (Dave Silk, Olympic speed skater) or even those East German women who tower over her, are in danger of a hug at any moment.

Two nights ago, a pair of champions met in the Saddledome -- figure skaters Brian Boitano and Brian Orser. Boitano threw a career best at Orser and, shaken, the Canadian cracked just a little. This evening, Rothenburger, who broke Blair's world mark in the 500 meters just a few months ago, did the same throw-down-the-gauntlet number to Blair. The 5-foot-3, 130-pound U.S. skater didn't flinch from the task.

"It didn't scare me all that much," she said of that 39.12 that shattered Rothenburger's own world mark by a whopping .27 of a second. "I had one lap in practice this week that showed me I could go {even} faster than that. I just had to do it again."

One 400-meter practice lap, in her whole lifetime, fast enough to indicate that, maybe, with all the breaks, she could beat 39.12 by an eyelash.

So, she goes out and finishes in 39.10. By one of the smallest margins of victory in Olympic history. (Yes, there was a .001 margin in '80 in Nordic skiing.)

"I listened for the announcer and the crowd after the 100-meter {split} time. Even if you don't hear the time, you hear the crowd go 'Ahhhh,' if you're ahead," said Blair. She was -- by .02. "That gave me the little extra oomph. When I opened up faster than her, I almost thought I had it then . . . The rest of the race was perfect. . . . When I saw the time, it just brought tears to my eyes right away. . . . As I crossed the finish line, I thought that was the happiest moment in my life. When they played the national anthem, I think that was the second happiest."

On the straight of the Olympic Oval where Dan Jansen fell and Nick Thometz faded, Blair pumped her arms over her head seven times in celebration, then clamped a big smooch on Silk. Cheering 100 feet away, unobtrusively, were Thometz and Jansen, who flew back from his sister's funeral to attend the Games.

"I've felt sorry for some of the guys who didn't do quite as well as they'd expected and for Eric Flaim, who kept finishing fourth {two times} before he got a {silver} medal {and once after}," said Blair. "But I chose not to read the newspapers. I couldn't let that affect me."

Blair is far from finished at these Olympics. You'd guess her for silver at 1,000 meters Friday and bronze at 1,500 Saturday. Blair's father Charlie said Monday that the same three women -- Blair, Rothenburger and Karin Enke-Kania -- might be on the stand three times, but maybe not in the same order.

Experts say that it will be the powerful strapping Kania on the top step the next two times. Her power winning over Blair's marvelous technique.

Even Blair says, "A compliment from Kania is like a compliment from Heiden." However, those races are no fait accompli. Blair has already smashed East Germany's entirely realistic hope of winning all five women's speed skating gold medals.

If this is Blair's first and finest Olympic minute, then we need nothing better. Here she comes, arms close to her body, chopping faster and tighter than any other skater. There she goes, digging around the turns, her back flat and low as some impossible human coffee table. In contrast, even Kania's form looks raw and awkward.

And coming to the finish line, that is where we will remember Bonnie Blair. The Olympic gold medal and the world record are there to be taken.

If you saw her, racing straight toward you, then flashing past as she lunged for the finish timer, you did not need to look at the clock to know she had won.

The victory, even by a wren's heartbeat, was written in her face.