SPEED SKATER BONNIE BLAIR WAS clearly excited—and why not? She had just won the gold medal in the 500-meter sprint at the Winter Olympics. But it wasn’t the medal or the champagne her teammates were uncorking that made her so bubbly as she entered her changing room. “Can you believe it?” she said dreamily. “Don Johnson just kissed me!”
Johnson should have been equally impressed, since Blair, 27. is a star in her own right. Last Monday she not only won the first U. gold, medal in Albertville, France, she also became the first American woman ever to win gold medals in consecutive Winter Games. Johnson and his wife, Melanie Griffith, were just two of the 900 fans present as Blair—arms scything, legs slicing as she carved the snuggest turns in the sport—outskated 31 other finishers with a time of 403 seconds.
Also on hand were 50 of Bonnie’s friends and family who had descended on the Olympic oval from all over America and, especially, from her hometown of Champaign, Ill. It wasn’t hard to pick them out, since many were sporting purple-and-white windbreakers designed by Bonnie’s brother Rob, 36. Before the race, the American contingent launched into several choruses of “Bring Back My Bonnie to Me.”
“I knew they were there,” says Bonnie, who salved her prerace jitters with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. “But they were just a blur, and I couldn’t identify anyone. I wasn’t just giving it my best for myself. I was also thinking of my father [Charles Blair, who died in late 1989]. He knew I would go to the Olympics before I knew I would. I always thought my father was crazy, but somehow he knew I’d get here.”
In retrospect, getting Bonnie to the Olympics seems to have been something of a Blair family plot. Like teammate Dan Jansen of West All is, Wis., Bonnie grew up in a family of speed skaters. Her mother, Eleanor, has said that Blair’s five older siblings “couldn’t wait to get the skates on Bonnie. They had an old worn pair, and they stuck them on over her shoes when she was 2.”
Alas, the most popular speedskating game in Champaign was something called pack racing, which was conducted on a short track and resembled roller derby. Always on the small side. Bonnie—now 5’5″ and 130 lbs.—had a hard time elbowing her way past the bigger kids to get to the front of the pack. Then, in 1979, she found her true métier when she traveled to Milwaukee and skated on the 400-meter Olympic track there. It was her first race on the longer track. She finished the 500-meter trial in under 47 seconds and qualified for the 1980 Olympics.
By 1984 Blair was the lop sprinter on the Olympic team, finishing eighth in the 500 at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. By 1988 she was a favorite at Calgary, where she set the world record of 390. The nation’s only multiple-medal winner, she also took the bronze at 100 meters.
This year Blair, who has won every 500-and 100-meter race on the World Cup circuit, has truly come into her own. Going into the 500, she was as close to a sure thing as the U. Olympic team had for a gold medal. The most efficient speed skater in the world. Blair may also be her sport’s most ferocious competitor. U. coach Peter Mueller has said, “Bonnie is a killer. She gets them down and keeps them there.”
In the wake of her world-beating race and the Don Johnson smooch, Blair hardly seems dangerous at all. In fact, chatting with her mother, she seems downright sentimental. “Both gold medals are special,” she says. “The first lime I won in 1988, I was the underdog. This time I knew what to expect. I’m glad my father was with me in 1988. but this medal I definitely won for him.”
JOEL STRATTE-MCCLURE in Albertville