Speed Skating - Blair switch project bears fruit

27 Feb 1988

The USA’s Bonnie Blair had been skating since the age of two. Originally a short-track skater, she later switched to the 400m oval and it soon became clear that this was where she belonged.

Blair had made her Olympic debut four years earlier in Sarajevo, taking eighth place in the 500m, but she was now faster, more experienced and more versatile. In Calgary she was entered into the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m and looked capable of mounting a serious medal challenge in each.

Her greatest focus, though, was on the 500m, and her greatest rival was the reigning champion Christa Rothenburger of East Germany. The German went off first and produced an outstanding skate, beating her own world record by around a quarter of a second to finish with a time of 39.12 seconds. It was the sort of display that might have intimidated some skaters, but it appeared to fire up Blair. She now knew what she had to achieve; she simply set about living up to the challenge.

Blair could not have started any better. She first away from the line faster than she had ever done in her competitive life, covering the first 100m in 10.55 seconds – 0.02 seconds faster than Rothenburger. That margin was to prove vital for she now matched Rothenburger almost precisely, maintaining that slender advantage until she crossed the line still two-hundredths of a second ahead of her rival. In a stroke, Blair had beaten the new world record, and won her first gold medal.

A bronze would follow in the 1,000m, while she came fourth in the 1,500m. Blair would return in both 1992 and 1994 to win both the 500m and 1,000m titles, establishing her as one of the sport's greatest athletes.

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