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WINTER OLYMPICS : Blair Wins a Second U.S. Gold Medal and Sets Olympic Record

February 23, 1988|From Times Wire Services

CALGARY, Canada — Bonnie Blair lifted Americans' morale and medals count in speed skating Monday night, winning the women's 500-meter sprint in world-record time.

Blair's time of 39.10 seconds broke the world record of 39.12 set minutes earlier by her East German arch-rival, Christa Rothenburger.

"I think I did it on guts," Blair said. "I did a (practice) lap this week that I knew was good enough to win and that's what I kept thinking about."

Blair became only the fourth American woman to win a gold medal in speed skating and the first since Sheila Young won the 500 in 1976.

It also was the fourth U.S. medal of this Olympics, the second in speed skating, and it provided a measure of revenge for her team.

In the men's 1,500 meters Saturday, American Eric Flaim saw his world record last only five minutes before East German Andre Hoffman beat it and took the gold.

She said seeing her time "brought tears to my eyes."

"I really didn't watch (Rothenburger) skate, but I did see her time," Blair said. "I kept telling myself that I could go faster."

Rothenburger took the silver behind Blair, while the bronze went to East Germany's Karen Kania, her sixth Olympic medal, in 39.24 seconds.

It was the third straight Olympics that Kania has won a medal in the 500. She won in 1980 and took the silver in 1984, when she had two golds and a silver in other events.

Rothenburger, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 500, skated in the second pair and ripped off her 39.12 to break her former world record of 39.39 seconds set in Calgary last December.

Rothenburger's first 100 meters were clocked in 10.57 seconds, but when it was Blair's turn two pairs later, she got off the line even faster--in 10.55 seconds--and made a final lunge at the finish line to beat Rothenburger by .02 of a second to the cheers of a large crowd at the indoor Olympic Oval.

"When I opened up faster than she did, I almost knew that I had it," Blair said.

At the finish line, Blair raised her arms in triumph, accepted congratulations from U.S. Coach Mike Crowe and then skated to the wall and fell into the arms of her boyfriend, U.S. speed skater David Silk.

"She looked to me and I gave her the thumbs up," Flaim said. "She did a heck of a job."

Blair, 23, the youngest member of a skating family from Champaign, Ill., wept openly at the medals ceremony immediately afterward.

"All of my family is here and I couldn't ask for a better fan club," she said.

Blair, who took an eighth in the 500 meters at the 1984 Games, began speed skating at age 2 but spent most of her early years in pack-style skating. She switched to Olympic-style speed skating in December 1979.

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