CALGARY -- As Bonnie Blair crossed the finish line, the pain just beginning to grab her whole body, her personal cheering section from Champaign, Ill., began toasting her time of 1:18:31 with proud cheers. An Olympic record in 1,000 meter speed skating, by almost three seconds.
Blair had done her job. Turned in blazing 200-meter and 600-meter splits, then wrenched her guts and fought to keep her legs under her for the final 400-meter lap. She'd squeezed every drop from herself and risked burning out, even standing up in pain near the end.
But she'd made it. The fear that had grabbed her when she heard the track announcer bellow her fractions -- so much faster than she'd ever gone -- was behind her. "Go out fast. Hope to hang on," she said she'd told herself. But 1:18:31? "I might have even surprised myself a little," she said later.
She'd beaten the only East German to precede her, Andrea Ehrig, by more than a second. Blair knew she'd have to wait to see what the two top East German women could do for a rebuttal.
As Blair coasted, bent double, she glanced up at her jumping parents, her brothers and sisters, and a dozen other blue-and-white clad Blair boosters.
"Shhhh," Blair said, finger to lips.
At a moment when her chances for a second Olympic medal -- even, perhaps, a second gold medal, still glistened -- Blair's instinctive reaction was to ask for fair play. East Germany's Karen Enke-Kania, the best woman skater of her generation, was on the starting line at that instant. Do Not Disturb.
Speed skating breeds sportsmanship and always has. The sport is pure and hard as ice -- all about pain and utterly clean cut in its results, right down to the last hundredth of a second. Only two racers are on the track at once facing a ticking clock. Seldom do career-long foes ever skate head-to-head.
Blair served herself as well tonight as she did Monday when, with a lunge, she beat Christa Rothenburger by .02 of a second. Then, on a night when she was a co-favorite for gold with Rothenberger, she showed her fight and her tears. This time, when she was one of four tightly bunched, roughly equal underdogs, all trying to catch Enke-Kania -- who had not been beaten in the 1,000 since before the 1984 Olympics -- she showed her fair play and her desire not to rest on her gold.
"No, to be honest, I didn't think my time would stand up," Blair said later. "I respect (the East Germans) quite a bit. They're unbelieveable."
As the clock would have it, Enke-Kania met Blair's challenge in a manner worthy of her legend. Enke-Kania took the ice with six Olympic medals back home -- three gold, two silver and a bronze. Soon, she had blown apart her lifetime best of 1:18.11 -- a pending unofficial world record that she set on this track three months ago. On the board, Enke-Kania's new mark of 1:17.70 shimmered like gold.
For almost two minutes. That's the half-life of glory in speed skating. You're safe until the starter's gun fires again.
Before Enke-Kania could straighten her muscles or manage a smile, her teammate Rothenburger showed the world what 1:17.65 looked like. Beaten by .02, she came back to win by .05.
Seconds before Rothenburger's start, Enke-Kania turned to the crowd and, just like Blair, told them, "Shhhh."
Some will say that Enke-Kania's condition tonight was suspect because she stood up, then finished a fading fourth in the 3,000 meters on Monday. An injury? Enke-Kania said it was just bad strategy -- out too fast, then no gas left in the tank. That old lactic acid agony.
Enke-Kania's time at 1,000 proved to speed skaters that she was not hurt. But they will speculate plenty on whether that pain -- and two days off from full training to recover -- cost her an eyelash defeat.
In speed skating, the honors are sharply defined with never a protest in sight. Enke-Kania's bronze this evening gives her seven Olympic medals -- the most ever -- although Lidia Skoblikova would certainly never trade her six golds for Enke-Kania's more varied collection. Gold is a woman athlete's best friend.
"Karen's a big girl with long legs. She's just made for the sport," said Nancy Swider-Peltz of the U.S. team.
We will get our last Olympic look at Enke-Kania on Saturday in the 1,500, a distance that Rothenburger usually can't handle but that Blair will attempt as perhaps the third-to-fifth "betting" choice. Already the Canadian coach has conceded the distance to Enke-Kania, saying that she will "blow away the world record" and win easily.
"My two main races are over," said Blair, relieved. "I'm aiming for a personal best on Saturday night." Then, take whatever it brings. Her strategy? She says she's wondering if "go out fast and try to hang out" -- something she's never dared at 1,500 -- might not be worth the risk and the pain.
Whatever Blair's fate on Saturday, she is assured of being the only U.S. athlete with multiple medals in '88 -- two out of the nation's five so far. If Blair comes back in 1992 at 27, she might have a shot at the best U.S. women speedsters ever. Diane Holum won a gold, two silver and a bronze and Sheila Young had one of each.
"To be a double medalist, that's going to take a while to sink in," said Blair. "But it feels pretty good right now."
On Saturday night, Blair will again take on Enke-Kania, plus a phalanx of other East Germans. When she crosses the finish line, she knows already that she'll feel proud and certain that her excellence has been fairly measured and her glory fairly and unquestionably won.
Across town, will Debi Thomas and Katarina Witt feel the same?