Blair Won't Slow Down or Lose Perspective America's Little Sister Reflects on Retirement, but Not until She Gives Her Fans One More Chance for a Reunion

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AS the most successful female American athlete in Winter Olympic history, speed skater Bonnie Blair has competed in four consecutive Olympics and collected five gold medals and a bronze.

Along the way, Olympic spectators have come to know Blair as "America's little sister" - an all-American girl with a bubbly personality and ready supply of enthusiasm. But this little sister does things her own way.

Following the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, this past February, Blair chose not to retire immediately or spend much time celebrating or securing commercial contracts.

"I still had one more goal that I wanted to try to accomplish," Blair says during a visit here for the opening of the United States Olympic Festival, now under way. That goal was to beat her own world record in the 500 meters, set at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Blair was determined not only to beat her record of 39.10 seconds but to shatter the 39-second mark. "This was like the ultimate barrier of the four-minute mile for track," she says.

The World Championships were being held in Calgary in March, and Blair says she could not resist the opportunity to compete one more time on "one of the fastest tracks in the world." It's a personal favorite, she explains.

Just weeks after turning 30, Blair achieved her goal, skating the 500 meters in 38.99 seconds in Calgary. "I'll never forget seeing those numbers," she says. "Who would have thought that, at the age of 30, I would have been able to go faster than I ever had?"

Meeting personal goals is what drives Blair. Earning medals and fulfilling other people's expectations trail far behind.

IN Norway, Blair was thrilled with her performance in the 1,500 meters even though she missed the bronze medal by 3-100ths of a second. "To me that was OK, because I skated a personal best record," Blair says. "It was the first time I had skated a personal best in any race in six years. Sure, I had missed a medal, and if I had gotten a bronze medal I would have been that much more excited. But I skated faster than I ever had, and I was happy with that."

As the last of six speed-skating Blair children, the pint-sized Bonnie first took to the ice when she was two years old. "If I wanted to be with my brothers and sisters, I had to go to the track," Blair recalls. "They didn't have skates to fit me at that time, so they left my shoes on inside the skates." At age 4, Blair began competing.

More than a quarter century since her first speed-skating competition, Blair says she still enjoys the sport as much as ever. "It's an amazing sport," she says. "It's the fastest that humans can go {under their own power} without the help of gravity. …


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