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Playbook: Bonnie Blair

Wisdom from the most compelling women in sports

By Cameron Morfit

  Bonnie Blair  Manny Millan
I'm the only female athlete who has five Olympic gold medals in individual events -- not including relays or whatever. They're in a coffee table at home in Milwaukee. The table has a glass top and the five colored rings with a medal inside each ring. A friend who's a fireman made it for me.

My skates from my last Olympic Games [at Lillehammer in 1994] are at home in a closet.

I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich three hours before every Olympic race. I'd always take a jar of Skippy Super Chunk to competitions with me because in other countries that wasn't an item that you could get. With jellies you can pretty much use whichever ones are around.

Four hundred meters is a long way when you're in that crouch position.

My husband [Dave] speed skates, and it's been nice to experience the sport through him. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he'll be in Salt Lake City.

I was on skates at the age of two and racing at four.

When I was in grade school and junior high, there were no school sports for me to do. Skating was the way that I could compete, following my five brothers and sisters who are all older than me.

I came from a family where we always ate well-balanced meals. It's just that sometimes we'd have to eat them in the car.

I lost my fair share of races. I just won during the Olympics -- the important ones.

I skated down David Letterman's hall in 1992. It wasn't real ice, it was this plastic stuff. The blades are thin so if you hit a bump, it'll slow them up pretty fast. Anyone who watched me try to skate down that hall must have wondered, How did she win an Olympic medal? I looked like a class-B clod.

I knew that I'd made it when I was watching my favorite soap opera, General Hospital, and a character on there, Lucy Coe, was slide boarding for exercise, and she said, "Yeah, just like Bonnie Blair!"

My mom realized that her daughter had made it when I was a question on Jeopardy.

My family and friends came to every Olympics I was in -- about three people came to my first in Sarajevo, in 1984; by '94 the Blair Bunch numbered 60.

People recognize me by my voice -- it's a dead giveaway. But I think they expect me to be a lot larger, like six feet, 180 pounds.

I'm involved with the American Brain Tumor Association because of my brother Rob. When they first found his tumor, in 1987, they said there was nothing that they could do for him. About 10 years later they were able to take out half the tumor. Who's to say what's going to happen in another 10 years?

My little boy's name is Grant, and he's three, and my little girl's name is Blair, and she's one. People say, "Your daughter's name is Blair Blair?" Well, no. My married name is Cruikshank. So my daughter's name is Blair Cruikshank.

At the 1985 world championships in Holland, where speed skating is huge, the crowd broke into My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean. I'm going to the starting line, and I'm getting all choked up! I tear up easily.

A lot of people in my sport skate barefoot. To me it was warmer to skate without socks than with them. And you get a better feel for your skates.

Figure skaters have more career longevity than speed skaters -- they can go on and do the tours. That's something that I've always envied. Speed skating doesn't fit TV like figure skating does.

I watch the tapes. My husband watches them for technical analysis. It's nice to be able to go back and relive the great moments.

For more great features -- including stories on bobsledder Jean Racine and the plan to relaunch the Women's Professional Softball League -- check out Sports Illustrated Women's February issue, on newsstands now.

 


 
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