Rejuvenated Blair turns tragedy into triumph
Bonnie Blair arrived in Albertville already an established star of international speed skating, but with her ambition undiminished. She had made her name four years earlier in Calgary, where she had stormed her way to the 500m gold medal in a world record time, and picked up a bronze in the 1,000m.
In the intervening four years Blair had lost her father, Charlie, and she had struggled to maintain her drive and focus. However as the 1992 Winter Games grew nearer she managed to rediscover her best form. It had been her father, after all, who had persuaded her to focus on the Games, and she wanted to dedicate any success to his memory.
As in Calgary, Blair was entered into three events – the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. First up came the chance to defend her 500m title, spurred on by dozens of friends and family members who had travelled to France to support her.
Her closest challenger was the Chinese skater Ye Qiaobo, who narrowly avoided a collision in her pair but still set a strong time of 40.51 seconds. Three pairs later, Blair took to the ice and, cheered on by her supporters, went 0.18 seconds quicker. In doing so, she became the first American to win a gold at two different Winter Games, while Ye was the first Chinese athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal of any colour.
However, Blair was not finished yet. Switching her focus to the 1,000m in which she had taken bronze four years earlier, she started strongly and clocked a time that proved unbeatable, again edging Ye into second place this time by a margin of just 0.02 seconds. Germany's Monique Garbrecht took the bronze. The victory meant Blair was the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Winter Games. Incredibly, her three victories had come with a total margin of victory of 0.22 seconds.
There was disappointment for Blair in the 1,500m, where she came nowhere near the podium, but that was not the end of her Olympic story. She returned to the Winter Games two years later in Lillehammer, and retained both her 500m and 1,000m titles to end her career with five Olympic golds.