I took up speed skating when I moved to Calgary in the fall of 1989, a year and a half after the ’88 Olympics. I was inspired by the speed skating I had watched on television and as you can imagine it was a thrill to walk into the Oval for the first time in Calgary and actually see some of the people I had watched win medals earlier the year before. Bonnie Blair (now Cruikshank) was one of those people.
In terms of a resume, it doesn’t get much better than hers. There have been a few who have won more medals at a single Olympics or perhaps over a career, but to win an Olympic event for three consecutive Games is an extremely rare accomplishment. Bonnie was kind enough to let me interview her for Sport At Its Best and I was able to speak to two of her former teammates as well. It’s clear she was not just a champion but someone who had an effect on the people around her. Part of that comes from being successful but it also has to do with accepting the reality of being a leader and role model. Today’s post is the first of four parts and focusses on team.
One of the topics that I like to bring up with athletes who have succeeded at the highest level is their competitive philosophy; how they see their competition, how they see their teammates. My memory of the U.S. team when they trained in Calgary was that they worked together. They really seemed to be a team in the truest sense despite the fact that speed skating is an individual sport and your teammates are also your competition. I asked her about that.
“Even though we are an individual sport, a very big part of it was we were a team. We traveled together all the time, sometimes under the same roof a good seven months out of the year, so [we had] great friendships, great teammates where we would feed off of each other.”
…you’re helping your team mates be the best that they can be and then when they do have great races and think maybe did you play a little part in it? That to me is thrilling and exciting too.
“I know I wouldn’t have been the skater I was had I not had the teammates like my husband [Dave Cruikshank], Dan Jansen, Nick Thometz, Dave Bestemen. [I had] those guys to really rely on for part of my training and helping me to be able to go speeds I wouldn’t be able to go on my own. That to me was huge. And part two was to do my part to help others. You take Moira (D’Andrea) Marshall for instance (former teammate), her starts weren’t her strong suit so if I could be of help to her on some things and let her follow me on some of the shorter exertions to get her up to speed better, those types of things where you’re helping your team mates be the best that they can be and then when they do have great races and think maybe did you play a little part in it? That to me is thrilling and exciting too. Even though we were individuals we were still very much a team and have had great friendships that have lasted a lifetime.”