DECEMBER 19, 1994
Perhaps because they've spent the better part of their lives toiling in the solitary world of an individual sport, Bonnie Blair and Johann Olav Koss now seem bent on joining and serving as many communities as they can. The two retired speed skaters, who won multiple gold medals at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics and were named our Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year in 1994, possess at least as much stamina as humanitarians as they did as athletes.
"Where haven't I been recently," says the 28-year-old Koss with a weary smile. "I've been to just about every country in Europe. To Vietnam. Atlanta. Sarajevo. Rwanda." He's a tireless campaigner for Olympic Aid, a program that raises money to provide medicine, school supplies and other assistance to impoverished children around the world. Koss, a Norwegian, donated to Olympic Aid the $30,000 bonus he was awarded by his country's government following the Lillehammer Games, and he has stepped up his involvement since then. With the help of UNICEF, he launched an Olympic Aid effort for the Atlanta Games—it raised $12 million—and hopes to make Olympic Aid a part of all future Games. What makes his globe-trotting all the more remarkable is that he is a full-time medical student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where he lives with Aussie Olympic swimmer Samantha Riley.
Though she hasn't logged as many air miles as Koss, Blair, too, is busy helping others. Over the past year she has made more than 100 appearances for U.S. charities. When the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame gave her its Sports Humanitarian Award on Nov. 8 in Boise, Idaho, she promptly deposited the $10,000 prize into the new Bonnie Blair Charitable Gift Fund, which supports a variety of causes, including cancer research—her brother Rob suffers from a brain tumor—and child welfare.
Blair, now 32, still devotes much of her time to her sport. She coaches children at her home rink in Milwaukee, giving special attention to her two nephews Nathan and Garrett Allen, and serves as technical consultant to U.S. Olympic speed skater Dave Cruikshank, whom she married last June 23. Blair also makes generous donations to various speed skating centers. "I want to keep money going to our sport, which is always lacking it," says Blair, though with champions like her and Koss, the sport is rich indeed.