Although Blair and Hauck were only the fifth pair (of 17) to race, Blair's performance all but ended the competition. She glided by Mueller and gave him a thunderous high five. Then she raised her arms as she turned toward the stands, where all 45 relatives were waiting, including her 73-year-old mother, Eleanor. "I'm shaking all over," Eleanor said. "I held my breath for too long."
The noise and verve of the Blair contingent resembled that of a whole nation. Or at least a city. The group arrived at the oval in a double-decker bus, with two of Bonnie's male cousins waving an American Hag out the windows and howling her name. They all wore purple-and-white jackets, which were inscribed with her name, the date and the place.
The party was organized by one of Bonnie's first cousins, Kathie Murphy, 46, of New York City. Bonnie got tickets for her relatives through a travel agent, and her brother Rob had the jackets made in Dallas. "Family and friends, and friends of family," said second cousin Regina Pfeifer of Holtsville, N.Y., filing into the oval with her five children.
"They've been planning this for about a year." said Bonnie. "I knew then that if I didn't skate well, I would disappoint a lot of people, and I felt like I didn't want to let them down."
The Blair clan did not set eyes on Bonnie in Albertville until she set foot on the ice. She kept to herself in preparation for the 500, refusing to dine even with her mother and her sister Susie. "It's all right," she said. "I get to see them the rest of the year. Bonnie made it very clear whom she was skating for: herself. "Me first." she said. "The rest, my team and my country, follows behind."
After the medal ceremony, Bonnie consented to a celebratory dinner. The entire group headed for St. Michel's, a local restaurant where everyone could watch replays of the race on one of several televisions. Bonnie had studied her record-breaking performance in Calgary over and over in preparation for these Games. "Being the underdog and never having won before was a very special moment." she said. "This time I knew what to expect. But it's very different when you can come back and win again."
As very few Americans know.