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Blair is special ... but she doesn't know it

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Blair marches to record fifth gold medal
By Fred W. Kiger
Special to

Signature Race

Feb. 23, 1994 - At the Viking Ship Olympic Hall in Hamar, Norway, Bonnie Blair prepared to compete in her final Olympic speed skating race, the 1,000 meters. As usual, the four-time Olympic gold medalist had eaten her peanut butter sandwich and sang "When the Saints Go Marching In." Taking her mark, the 29-year-old Blair was paired with one of her fiercest rivals, China's Ye Qiaobo, who had finished second, behind Blair, by one-fiftieth of a second in this event in the 1992 Olympics.

As they completed the first lap, Qiaobo pulled ahead. Blair, who "likes to have somebody to chase," responded in impressive fashion. Skating her fastest 1,000 meters in six years, Blair not only caught Qiaobo, but finished pulling away. Her gold-medal time was 1:18.74, 1.38 seconds ahead of runner-up Anke Baier of Germany. It was the largest winning margin in the event's history.

The victory made Blair the first American woman to earn five gold medals in either the Winter or Summer Games and the first to win six medals in the Winter Olympics.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • In 1982, the police department of Champaign, Ill., began to financially back Blair through bake sales, dances and bumper stickers.

  • Later in the 1980s, bumper stickers and sweatshirts read, "Champaign Policemen's Favorite Speeder: Olympian Bonnie Blair."

  • She also received financial support from Milwaukee Bucks center/forward Jack Sikma, who was in the same college fraternity with Bonnie's older brother Rob.

  • A sign at the city limits of Champaign welcomes visitors to the home of Olympic champion Bonnie Blair.

  • Blair is immensely popular in the speed skating crazy country of the Netherlands, where fans have serenaded her with "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

  • While traveling about the U.S., one Dutch couple was so intrigued with Bonnie that they visited the Blair residence in Champaign.

  • During training, Blair could lift as much as 245 pounds with her legs.

  • In 1991 she turned down an invitation to appear on Late Night with David Letterman because she was too busy.

  • Blair won America's first medal of the 1992 Olympics with her gold medal in the 500 meters.

  • After her success at the 1992 Games, the Champaign Police Department presented Blair with a gold badge.

  • In 1992 she joined Dick Button (1948) and Eric Heiden (1980) as only the third winter sports athlete to win the Sullivan Award.

  • Before the 1994 Winter Games, Blair had won three gold medals by a combined total of twenty-two one-hundredths of a second.

  • Blair displays her Olympic medals in a coffee table made in the shape of Olympic rings.

  • She was Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year in 1994. Norway's Johann Olav Koss, also a speed skater, was named Sportsman of the Year.

  • Blair is one of only two Americans (Eric Heiden is the other) to win the Norwegian Oscar as the world's best speed skater.

  • Blair, who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to calm her down before main events, has a lifetime membership in the "Peanut Butter Lovers" Club.

  • She enjoys softball, baking cookies and golf.

  • She serves on the board of directors for U.S. speed skating.

  • On Dec. 4, 2001, Blair was the first to carry the Olympic torch on U.S. soil after it arrived by plane from Athens, Greece. In starting the torch on its road to Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Winter Games, she was aided in the ceremony by her 83-year-old mother, Eleanor.

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