Bonnie Blair: Exclusive Interview with an Olympic Legend and Mom

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to stand on the medal podium at the Olympics as your national anthem is played?

What kind of life you’d have as a mother after being in the international limelight?

I recently interviewed five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair. This speed skating legend was one of the judges who made the ultimate decision to send me to the Olympics for the Microsoft Office Winter Games Contest.

Which means we can ultimately thank or blame her when all is said and done.

This down-to-earth mother of two shared her humorous take on her triumphant past and present, as well as her predictions for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Q: You come from a speed skating family. Tell me the funny circumstances leading up to your birth.

Bonnie: Part of what you have to remember back then is that no one was allowed in the birthing rooms like they are today. I was the sixth child to come along so my parents had been down this road. When my mom went into labor, my dad didn’t even take her inside the hospital and simply dropped her off on the front steps.

He took my brothers and sisters to watch a skating practice. They found out I was born when it was announced over the loudspeaker that another female speed skater had been added to the Blair family!

Q: You competed in four Olympics, were inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and are one of the most decorated U.S. women in Olympic history. What is your favorite Olympic memory?

Bonnie: It’s hard to narrow it down. For me, there were two stand-outs. The first was in Calgary at the 1988 Games. That was where I won for the very first time. Whenever you do something for the first time, it has an unbelievable power and emotion behind it that is difficult to capture again. Other wins were thrilling but that first was very, very powerful.

The other stand-out for me was Lillehammer in 1994. I was going to retire the next year so I knew this would be my final time on an Olympic podium. In that sense, it was a sad moment because I knew I would never hear the national anthem again under these circumstances.

Q: Along these same lines, what is it like to stand on the podium as they play the National Anthem for you?

Bonnie: Going back to Calgary, I can remember standing on the podium and seeking out my family members, who were scattered around. All of them had different reactions. My sister Angela was crying, my sister Suzie had a big grin, Mary Ellen was screaming and yelling and I saw my brother high-five his best friend. Funniest of all was my mom: she still looked scared to death. All of these different emotions encompassed exactly how I was feeling.

Q: What was your breakfast or meal of champions before competing?

Bonnie: I am a cereal person. Most speed skating races are in the afternoons so my pre-race meal was always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can find jelly pretty much anywhere in the world but peanut butter is more difficult to track down. That is why I always made sure to have my toothbrush, underwear and Skippy’s Super Chunk Peanut Butter wherever I went!

Q: That’s hilarious! What do you miss most about competing?

I definitely don’t miss the most difficult workouts. I miss the camaraderie. I miss being in such great shape and being able to eat whatever I wanted! Even though we traveled the world, we didn’t see much but it was still a learning experience. My rivals were friendly ones and I still value those friendships today.

Q: After training at such an elite level, how do you stay in shape?

Bonnie: Well, I just got back from a run, which is my choice sport these days because it’s an easy way to workout in 50 minutes. I also lift weights once and a while.

Q: What about speed skating? Do you still hit the ice?

Bonnie: I only skate occasionally. I still love it but it is hard work. I’m not at the level I once was, which makes it less enjoyable. I’m sure it would be much better if I was in shape and could go really fast. That said, it definitely puts a smile on my face whenever I step onto the ice.

Q: You married fellow speed skater Dave Cruikshank. Tell me about your children.

Bonnie: Grant is 11 and his main sport is hockey. While at the Olympics we are attending some hockey games and he is excited because NHL players are on pretty much every team. In the summertime he likes to golf and play tennis. He apparently excels at things you can hit.

My daughter Blair is 9 and a gymnast. She’s all about climbing, balancing, and pulling herself up on everything!

Of course, people expected our children to be speed skaters but Dave and I are committed to letting them find their own passions.

Q: What are the greatest and toughest things about motherhood for you?

Bonnie: I love my husband and family but the love you have for a child…well, you just don’t know you could have such a capacity to love. I find joy in seeing them do the things they enjoy.

My toughest moments are when they’re frustrated and I wish I could make it better but can’t.

Q: Are you still involved with speed skating? What will you be doing at the Olympics?

Bonnie: I get to do all the fun stuff and focus more on sponsor-driven activities. When I arrive on February 9th, I’m going to help with processing. When all the American athletes come into Vancouver, this is where they will get their Olympic clothing and they’ll go through their last-minute meetings with the U.S. Olympic committee. I will be there to wish them good luck!

Q: Who are the speed skaters to watch?

On the long track side, watch for Jennifer Rodriguez. She took some time off but she medaled at her most recent competition in Salt Lake City. Katherine Reutter is pretty consistent with getting up on the podium. Plus, she’s from my hometown Champaign, IL.

For men, Tucker Fredricks in the 500 meters, Chad Hedrick and of course, Apolo Ohno in short track. Breathing down his neck is a young skater named J.R.Celski. He’s a young, strong skater who could surprise a lot of people!

Starting on February 11, I will be blogging daily from the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Stayed tuned for my official itinerary and details on my celebratory party. Thank you to everyone who has supported me!

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