Bonnie Kathleen Blair (born March 18, 1964) is an American retired speed skater. She is one of the top skaters of her era, and one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history. Blair competed for the United States in four Olympics, winning five gold medals and one bronze medal.
Blair made her Olympic debut in Sarajevo in 1984 where she finished eighth in the 500 meters. At the time, Blair trained in both short-track and long-track speed skating. She won the 1986 short-track world championship. Blair returned to the Olympics in 1988 competing in long-track at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. There she won her first Olympic gold medal in the 500 meters and a bronze medal in the 1,000 meter. Blair won two gold medals in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville and her final two Olympic gold medals at the 1994 Lillehammer games. Blair continued competing through 1995 when the World Championships were held in Milwaukee, finally retiring in March 1995.
After retiring from speed skating, Blair became a motivational speaker. She has been inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.
Blair was born in Cornwall, New York to Charlie and Eleanor Blair. She was the youngest of six children. Her godmother is Canadian speed skater Cathy Priestner. The family moved Champaign, Illinois when Bonnie was a toddler. Already a hobby for her siblings, Bonnie first tried skating at age two. She participated in her first skating meet at age 4. The organization of short-track speed skating in Central Illinois, with the University of Illinois Ice Arena being a founding member, aided her development. She attended Jefferson Middle School and later Centennial High School in Champaign In addition to skating, Blair was also a cheer leader and a member of the student council.
At age 15, Blair tried out for the national team, earning a spot on her first attempt. With her increased focus on the 1984 Olympics, Blair went to train in Europe. She completed her high school diploma through the mail in 1982. That same year, the Champaign Policemen's Benevolent Association began sponsoring some of Blair's training expenses. She moved to the Milwaukee area to train with the United States national speed skating team, living with a family friend while she trained. Blair took classes at Parkland College, although college classes were less of a priority than training and she did not receive a degree.
Blair made her international competitive debut at the 1984 World Sprinting Championships where she placed tenth. Later that year,Blair appeared at her first Olympic games at age 19 in Sarajevo. Blair had not been not considered a front-runner and later recalled she was happy just to be at the games and see her family in the stands. She failed to medal and finished eighth in the 500 meters. The U.S. failed to win any speed skating medals at the 1984 Olympics. Blair trained in both short-track and long-track. Blair won events at 1984, 1985 and 1986 short-track world championships and was the 1986 overall short-track world champion.
A strong performance at the United States International Skating Association Metric All-Around Championships, held in West Allis, Wisconsin, earned Blair a spot on the U.S. long track women's sprint team for the 1985 World Championships. Blair won both the 500 meter and 1500 meter at the West Allis event, and was considered one of the U.S. team's strongest medal contenders. In May 1985, at a time when U.S. speed skating lacked unity, U.S. International Speedskating Association replaced national team coach Dianne Holum with Mike Crowe.
Early in 1987, Blair won World Cup titles in the 500 and 1,000 meters. She followed up her World Cup titles in by setting her first world record in the 500 meters with a time 39.43 seconds. Blair also proved she could beat East-German world champion Karin Enke-Kania in head to head match-ups. Although Blair was four inches shorter than Enke-Kania, Blair's technique and fast start time made her a formidable competitor. Blair held a world record at 500 meters until December 1987 when Christa Rothenburger beat her time at the World Cup. Blair, under the weather with a cough and cold, finished second in the event. Overall, Blair won 4 of 18 women's medals at the 1987 World Cup; East German skaters, including Rothenburger, won 13. At the December 1987 U.S. speed skating trials for the 1988 Winter Olympics, Blair led the women's field in the 500,1,000, and 1,500 meters, securing her place on the U.S. Olympic team, as expected. Blair was considered a stronger competitor in the shorter distances, where she was seen as the United States' best chance at a gold medal in speed skating. U.S. speed skating failure to win a single medal at the 1984 Olympics added to the pressure and attention focused on Blair leading up to the 1988 games.
Blair went on to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, where her first event was the 500 meters. Rothenburger skating first, setting a new world record. Blair responded to the challenge with her best start ever in the 500 meters, winning the gold medal in world record time of 39.10 seconds. For her second event of the games, Blair had a personal best and briefly set an Olympic record in the 1,000 meters. Two of Blair's competitors, who skated after her, subsequently beat her time; thus Blair won the bronze in the 1,000 meters. Blair's third and final event of the 1988 Winter Olympics was the 1,500 meters, in which she placed fourth. Blair's family friends in the stands, affectionately known as the "Blair Bunch," became a staple of her competitive career.
Despite her success at the 1988 Olympics, Blair did not enjoy a windfall from endorsements. Holding Blair back from more advertisements was both her choice of sports, which was thought to be less marketable, and ABC's coverage of the games, which failed to resonate with viewers.
Following the 1988 Olympics, Blair also tried track cycle racing, and was coached by former speed skater and cycling world champion Connie Paraskevin. Cycling became part of Blair's speed skating training as both sports utilized the same muscle groups. She made her competitive cycling debut in June 1989 at the Sundance Juice Sparkler Grand Prix.
Blair again competed at Olympics in 1992, this time held in Albertville, France. Blair again won gold in the 500 meters, becoming the first woman to win the event in back to back Olympics, with a time of 40.33 seconds. The time was slower than Blair's time in Calgary, however, the venue in Albertville was outdoors creating conditions which were less conducive for speed skating. The second-place finisher, Ye Qiaobo of China, claimed to have been slowed down by an improper crossover from another skater. Although Ye claimed the crossover cost her the gold, the referee's rejected China's protest. Blair dedicated her gold medal to her father, Charlie, who had died from lung cancer two years earlier. Charlie had dreamed of Bonnie becoming an Olympic speed skater.
In her second event, the 1,500 meters, Blair finished 21st. The placement was due in part to the strategy of her coach, Peter Mueller; Mueller told Blair he would give her a signal to coast if he felt she was not on pace for a podium finish, allowing her to conserve energy. As Blair approached the final 400 meters, Mueller gave the signal.
In 1986, the International Olympic Committee voted to stage the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics in alternating four year cycles. Thus, the next Winter Games would be held in February 1994 rather than in February 1996. At the 1994, U.S. Olympic long-track trials at the Pettit National Ice Center, Blair set track records in the first round of the 500 meter and 1,000 meter trails. The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, were a coronation of sorts for Blair: She again won gold in the 500 meters (39.25) and 1,000 (1:18.74) meters races, in dominating fashion. Blair finished 0.36 seconds ahead of the second best time in the 500 meters, and her 1.38 second margin in the 1,000 meters race is the largest margin of victory in the history of the event. In the process she became the first American woman to win five gold medals. She also was the only American to have 6 medals at any Winter Olympics, a record that stood until short-track speed skater Apolo Ohno surpassed it at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
After the 1994 Olympics, Blair continued to compete. Less than a month after Lillehammer Olympics, Blair set another world record in the 500 meters, becoming the first female to complete the race in under 39 seconds, achieving a time of 38.99 seconds. Blair topped her own World Record the following year, achieving a time of 38.69 on February 12, 1995 in Calgary. Blair continued on to the 1995 World Championships in her adopted home town of Milwaukee. The Blair Bunch, the name given to Blair's family and friends, accounted for 12% of the crowd at the Pettit National Ice Center. There, Blair won the 500 meters with a time of 39.54 seconds. On March 18, 1995, she retired.
When the Winter Olympics returned to the United States in 2002, Blair was one of the final torchbearers to carry the Olympic flame into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah. As of 2002, Blair served on U.S. Speedskating's board of directors. As of 2014, Blair worked as a motivational speaker and corporate spokesperson. That same year she was a member of the U.S. Olympic delegation to Sochi. As of 2018, Blair serves on the board of the Pettit National Ice Center.
In 1992, Blair became the third winter athlete to win the Sullivan Award. Blair won the 1992 Oscar Mathisen Award (being the first female winner of this award). She also was Female Athlete of the Year as selected by the Associated Press in 1994. Blair also won the World Cup points championship 11 times. Sports Illustrated named Blair their Sportswoman of the Year for 1994. By 1994, Blair's hometown of Champaign had renamed one of its streets Bonnie Blair Drive.
She is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2004, she was elected to the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. She was awarded a star (#7) on The Flag for Hope on September 29, 2015 in recognition of her outstanding Speed Skating Career and philanthropic efforts.
Blair began dating fellow Olympic speed skater Dave Cruikshank in 1990. The pair married in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1996. Blair and Cruikshank have two children: a son, Grant, and daughter, Blair. As of 2018, Grant Cruikshank plays hockey at Colorado College. Blair Cruikshank competed at the 2018 United States Olympic speed skating trials at the 500 meter distance, held in Pettit National Ice Center.
Johann Olav Koss
| Oscar Mathisen Award
| Flo Hyman Memorial Award