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Bonnie Blair recalls sweet Olympic debut

Speed skater Bonnie Blair, one of the most successful American Olympic athletes of all time, recalls fondly her first Games in Sarajevo in 1984 in this new episode of our video series "Word of Olympians."


Bonnie Blair has earned a special place in the pantheon of American Olympic sport. For many years, she was the most decorated winter athlete in her country with six medals, including five gold won in three Games, and remains to this day the only one to win the same event three times: the 500m.

Yet, when asked about her favourite memories, she evokes the Sarajevo Games in 1984, her earliest Olympic appearance at the age of 19, and where she had seen her only result in 8th place in the 500m, as a real victory.

"It was kind of being like that kid in a candy store. You don’t believe you are here, this is unbelievable, just total excitement and thrill with every aspects that went with the Games from the Opening Ceremony, walking in, to the crowd.  I was able to pick out my mom and my two sisters who were in the crowd. And that just brought tears to my eyes. It’s just so overwhelming to think ‘OK, the whole world is watching this!”

On February 10, 1984 in Sarajevo, the young Bonnie finishes with a time of 42.53 which earned her 8th place in the 500m at the Zetra ice ring at an event marked by East Germany’s gold and silver medals with Christa Luding (41.02 ) and Karin Enke (41.28). "If you had seen me cross the finish line, you probably would have thought I had won, because I was so excited with this result that I had that it was way above my expectations!”

Four years later in Calgary's Olympic Oval, Bonnie Blair was now one of the world's best skaters. And she won the 500m by setting a new world record of 39.10, dethroning Christa Luding who took silver by 2 / 100th of a second. "You are aware of what the Games are all about. (…) Therefore I was able to concentrate and focus more on the events and more what I needed to do. Not that I did not focus in the event in 1984, but it was so overwhelming having been my first Olympics. It was nice to go back knowing was I was up against. Now I was a medal hopeful, so the approach was a little different "...

In Calgary, Bonnie Blair also took bronze in the 1000m. With increasing experience, the child of Cornwall in the State of New York took the double 500m-1000m at the Albertville Games in 1992. Like many athletes, she then made the most of the exceptional period of two years separating the Games in the French Tarentaise valley of those played in Lillehammer in 1994 (in the Norwegian Oppland), when the winter and summer editions are shifted. On the Hamar skating ring on February 19 and 23, Blair retains her two titles in the 500m and 1000m by large. She became the first American athlete five times Olympic champion and, at the time, the only one to win six medals at the Winter Games.

Bonnie Blair, eleven times World Cup over first place, made a last exploit before retiring: on February 2nd, 1995 in Calgary she set a new world record in the 500m being the first skater to go under 39 seconds (38.99). Today she can admire her gold medals, encased under the glass table in his living room. "My kids eat their cereal over them" she said with a big smile.

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