- Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank won five Olympic gold medals and one bronze
- She and husband, Dave, coach their daughter in the sport
- Blair-Cruikshank stays fit by lifting weights, cycling and yes, skating
Coaching your child can be a blessing and a curse. The disciplinary athletic message can be defused when it’s being delivered by the same person on your case to “Take out the trash,” and “Stop texting.”
One parent-coach who doesn’t struggle with the dual responsibility is Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank, the four-time-Olympian speedskater who along with her husband, Dave, is helping to direct the speedskating progress of their daughter, Blair, 21.
“My kids have been good at that. They grew up with us doing this, knowing we both made four Olympic teams and that Mom won a couple medals,” Blair-Cruikshank said. “They know what we accomplished brings a little credibility to what we know.”
America’s Bonnie Blair tallied five gold medals and one bronze, setting a world record in the 500-meter race at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, proceeding to repeat as 500 gold medalist in the 1992 and 1994 Games.
She carried the U.S. flag after the 1988 and 1994 Games, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1992, and conquered the East German machine to win gold for the first time.
“Something has to be said about doing something for the first time with the unbelievable power and emotion that was behind it,” Blair-Cruikshank, 57, told USA TODAY SPORTS this week. “My biggest rival, Christa Rothenburger, had gone before me and set a world record, so I had to go faster than I’ve ever gone, and I had to set a world record to beat her. When I crossed that finish line, I knew that gold was mine. The impact of that was very powerful.”
Claiming her fifth and final gold in Lillehammer, Norway, moved Blair-Cruikshank to tears all these years later.
“Standing on that podium, hearing the national anthem and knowing, ‘I’ll never have this feeling again,’ was emotional in a whole different way,” she said. “It was sad. ‘I’m done, I’m over and I’m never going to be able to do this again.’ … All I can tell you is that when I hear the national anthem, I hear it different than the average person.”
It marked a storybook journey, considering Bonnie Blair’s birth was actually announced to a New York speedskating crowd as her father worked a meet there as a timer on the day she was born.
That nurturing Bonnie gained from her father is being passed on to her daughter, Blair, and the mutual training has kept Bonnie remarkably fit and healthy as her 60th birthday nears.
Residing outside Milwaukee, the Cruikshanks are currently accompanying Blair at the U.S. Speedskating Fall World Cup qualifiers in Salt Lake City.
“My husband’s more of a thinker as a coach, while I’m the type who says, ‘Your skates are set up, now go,’” Blair-Cruikshank said.
The couple is maintaining modest ambitions for Blair despite her impressive pedigree and success as a junior. Blair-Cruikshank assesses her daughter ranks “sixth or seventh” among Americans in her best distance – 500 meters, of course.
“She’s trying to climb that ladder. It would be very difficult for her to make this (2022) team, with this steep competition, but if she does a couple things right, she could make some jumps. So you never say never,” Blair-Cruikshank said.
“We haven’t forced the issue. We’ve been more about, ‘Let’s take our time with this,’ and let her have longevity. We see it with my son in hockey, other kids always chasing the next tournament, and by the time they’re 21, they don’t want to do it anymore. We want her to enjoy the process, to do things right, to have the longevity we both did instead of rushing it. And you’re seeing success by older athletes in swimming and track and field. She has a lot of potential and a lot in the tank.”
So does her mother, who’s set aside her motivational-speaking appearances during the pandemic’s travel restrictions by training with Blair and even going through a battery of blood and allergy tests to help establish the most beneficial diet for both.
“I knew I was allergic to garlic, but the test also found I had to cut out dairy, gluten, eggs. I’m like, ‘Why did I take this blood test?’” Blair-Cruikshank said.
Making concessions like less cheese on gluten-free pizza crust and oat milk ice cream aren’t entirely appetizing, but Blair-Cruikshank encourages those in her age range to pursue such dietary tests.
“Then our body doesn’t get inflamed and doesn’t have to work extra hard fighting something … Tom Brady talks about that, too,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I will cheat. But I’m not going to feel guilty because I’m not going after the Olympics anymore.”
There have been recent days when Blair-Cruikshank catches herself on a bike ride of longer than two hours or skating 30 laps still.
“I still lift weights, but don’t go crazy,” she said. “I don’t have that power and strength in my legs that I once did, but there is still some definition. And that makes me feel better.”
To those also in the 50-plus range seeking that nod of satisfaction that arrives with improved fitness, she advises, “do something, be active, even if it’s just getting out and walking. Walk a block, jog a block. Ride a bike. Play golf and carry your own clubs. Keep it creative in a way that gives you peace of mind and happiness. Because it makes you feel better when you go out and move your body and do something.”
Blair-Cruikshank says she’s found better sleep, peace of mind and happiness by remaining active.
During the exercise bicycle runs, a feeling of contentment comes upon her as she trails the group from the rear. Five gold medals have already proven her competitive vigor.
“I don’t need to lead anymore because I’m just kind of along for the ride,” Blair-Cruikshank said. “And I can still feel good about eating my ice cream afterward.”