U.S. Olympic Speed Skater and One of the Most Decorated Athletes in Olympic History
Success under pressure is the measure of a true champion. There are numerous winners in the world of sports but the celebrated athletes are the few who meet the challenge of pressure time after time. Bonnie Blair is undoubtedly celebrated as the speedskater who produces her best performances when it counts the most.
Road to Victory
Bonnie began her race in the 500 meter event of the 1988 Calgary Olympics immediately after her rival Christa Rothenburger of East Germany set a world record. Not to be outdone, Bonnie proceeded to skate the 500 meters faster than any woman had before, capturing the gold medal in a world record time of 39.1.
This record stood for five years until March 1994, when at the age of 30, Blair met her ultimate goal of shattering the 39-second mark with a time of 38.99. Four years later at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, with the world watching and a nation counting on her, Blair came through again. She blew away the field in the 500 meters, defeating her nearest competitor, Ye Qiaobo of China, by 18 hundredths of a second. The victory made Blair the first woman in Olympic history to win consecutive gold medals in the event, and the first American woman to win consecutive Winter Olympic gold medals. She made history again in the 1,000 meters, edging out Ye by just two hundredths of a second to win her second gold of the Games, and her fourth Olympic medal overall. In 1994, Blair skated in her final Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Supported by 60 Plus members of “The Blair Bunch,” Bonnie once again swept the sprint races winning gold medals in both the 500 and 1,000 meter events. By capturing her sixth career Olympic medal, Bonnie emerged as U.S. history’s most decorated Winter athlete, as well as the record holder for the most gold medals (5) won by an American in any sport.
As the United States Olympic Committee’s Woman Speedskater of the Year from 1985 to 1992, Bonnie also captured the world record for overall points in the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships in 1989 by defeating defending champion and former Olympic opponent Christa Rothenburger of East Germany. She eclipsed that mark at a World Cup event in Davos in January 1992, shortly thereafter, in Calgary in April 1992, and finally again in Calgary in January, 1994.
Other Competitive Sports
As if competitive skating wasn’t enough to fill her agenda, Bonnie was a member of the 1989 Sundance Fruit Jucier Cycling Tour, on a team with 1988 Olympic bronze medallist cyclists Connie Paraskevin Young. In the spotlight as a novice, Bonnie displayed the potential to reach world-class level, placing high in several sprint competitions, and attracting media attention wherever she pedaled.
Awards and Recognition
Bonnie won several prestigious awards, including the 1992 James E. Sullivan Award, the first female winner of the Oscar Mathisen Award in 1992, the 1992 ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1994. She also was named Female Athlete of the Year as selected by the Associated Press in 1994. In 2004, she was elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
Bonnie is widely admired for her combination of modesty and confidence. A professional writer summarized her appeal by praising her unassuming manner and charm, “Your modesty in accepting the medal, holding back the tears, your bright smile when thanking the Olympic official, your tender words to those you defeated – all of these characteristics endeared you to the mass of viewers in our nation and abroad.”