Nii Wallace-Bruce and Corbert de Ronde go around the oval with US speedskating legend and coach, Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank. The trio discussed the recently concluded Beijing Winter Olympics and more. Be sure to follow Bonnie on Instagram and Twitter.
Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank's Olympic accolades
- 1988 Calgary 500m Gold
- 1988 Calgary 1,000m Bronze
- 1992 Albertville 500m Gold
- 1992 Albertville 1,000m Gold
- 1994 Lillehammer 500m Gold
- 1994 Lillehammer1,000m Gold
NWB: Welcome back to the Pro Sports Podcasters, I am your co-host, Mr Nii Wallace-Bruce a.k.a NWB and I am joined by the talented Mr Corbert de Ronde a.k.a Cobe. Cobe, how are you doing?
Cobe: I'm fantastic buddy, how are you doing?
NWB: I'm good. I'm cool. In fact we've got someone who knows all about being cool and being fast on the ice. In fact, she is one of the most successful Winter Olympians of all time, winning many a medal. In fact, not just many a medal, but five gold medals and a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics for her United States. It is the one, the only, Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank. Bonnie, how's it going?
Bonnie: Wooooohoooo, how are you? Thanks for the nice intro.
NWB: That's alright, it's a pleasure to have you on and we recently saw the end of the Beijing edition of the Winter Olympics for 2022. What were your thoughts on the games as it wrapped after two weeks?
Bonnie: I think there's a few things. I think first and foremost, I'm glad that it actually happened at the time that it was supposed to happen for all these Winter Olympians and you know yes, there was a little bit of glitches here and there and some people that were stuck in quarantine. But for 95% of it, at least for the competition, it came off so that, first and foremost, for the athletes put their heart on the line and had worked all that time to be able to get out there and do it when they were supposed to. When you looked at the Summer Games and how so many people were ready for it and then it was postponed for the entire year, that could have changed things for some of those athletes. So there's that part of it I think, it's hard not to say anything about the Summer Games and not say anything about the drug testing and the young Russian girl and the whole thing is very unfortunate, however, I as an athlete feel she should not have been allowed to compete, no matter what went on behind the scenes or whatever. You know that is something that definitely comes to mind and at least for our sport, we were able to bring home three medals in one track speedskating so that was big for our sport for sure. In the United States that is.
NWB: There we go. Yes, it was a good Olympics for the United States and Canada from a medals perspective. You did touch on the controversy in the figure skating with the Russian athlete. It was curious that she was allowed to compete despite the positive test was submitted and there's going to be questions about the administration of the IOC. How can this be allowed to happen, where typically when someone tests positive they are removed from competition, whether than be pre, during or post competition. Very questionable.
Bonnie: Yeah for sure, I remember and I know things as far as doping control and the testing that they do has changed since I competed but I also remember in 1988 there was actually a girl from China who tested positive at the World Championships two weeks before the Olympics were in Calgary and she wasn't allowed to compete. She was gone! It just makes the other athletes feel like they're not on a level playing field and it's true that they weren't. But then as an athlete it is very unfortunate.
NWB: It is unfortunate and you hate to see it. I think back to the 2021 Summer Olympics, Sha'carri Richardson, the leader in her event in track and field, she tested positive for THC and she wasn't allowed to compete in Tokyo. So it does send mixed signals in my humble opinion.
Cobe: I have a feeling like we may have a situation where we may have to call it the Valieva Rule, basically. They've set a precedent where if you're below a certain age, you could be forgiven. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Bonnie: Makes no sense, right. I think yes, she is young and I feel for her in that situation. I think when I kind of look back once again to when I was competing and you looked maybe a little more at the East Germans at that point in time. I get it's a way of life for them to get out of the country at that point in time. So I get it. Another thing is that they don't know what they're doing. If they get something put in front of them, a plate of whatever and who knows what was in it and told to take these vitamins, they're probably like "Ok, that's what my coach wants me to do, I'm going to do it". I think as far as that goes, as an athlete, especially as an American or Canadian, once we get to a certain level and start being on that level for the potential for drug testing, you've got to watch every little thing that you take. They're obviously not giving her those tools. I think there's a different set of tools that they're working with than what we would work with. They said shame on those who were above her, that were supposed to be watching out for her. But in my book, those that are supposed to be watching out for her are giving her the drugs. So it's a sad situation. I read something, I think it was yesterday, part of which I don't understand, but if we take what happened here with the THC and what happened there, that's through America's drug testing protocol and then we as America say "That's not right, you're not going". So this was on the other side, it's kind of the same thing but it really isn't, so we were making our rules and standing behind them. They have their rules and they're obviously not standing behind those. Then it now came to light for the IOC and yeah, I think there's people that are going to have to get their ducks in a row to make sure things like this don't happen again, like with what happened when they were passing the urine through the wall. They're definitely on a short leash and their leash definitely got really shorter. I definitely hope that we haven't heard the last of it and things happen to make sure things like it don't happen in the future.
Cobe: For sure, for sure, you the know the real question at that point is who's holding onto that leash. They're on a short leash but whose job is it now to reel them in? Because there is a disconnect between who is going to take responsibility in this situation, that's a problem as well. I think not just the Valieva incident but there were a number of incidents across the Olympics that caused people to tune out and by the numbers, this had the lowest viewership of the Winter Olympics for quite some time, at least on the North American side of things. What do you think contributed to that?
Bonnie: Yeah, I heard about that and that really kind of surprised me because I felt like I was reached to by a lot of people that were watching. I think that first and foremost, it is definitely very difficult given the time change. Because most already know the results before they're aired that night. Yes, there were some results that were live but less than maybe a quarter of it or something like that. So even I've got a little bit more used to at least with my sport and when they're competing internationally, to look at the results and then go back and watch it on a feed that was done on YouTube or whatever. So like before, I never wanted to know results until I watched it, but now with the media out there, it's just not possible. So I think that that's got to be a very big factor in it but yeah I don't know... was it because they just knew it seemed like China held a lot of the cards, because it was in their country and making it so much more difficult for anyone to board an airplane to go there.
Cobe: That's so true.
Bonnie: Their numbers were different, I don't know the specific terminology. You needed a 35 there, whereas it was just 30 here, so you know that makes a big difference. When people hear those sorts of things and get frustrated and say "Forget this, this is crazy, China's making all the rules that's not fair. So I don't know if that played into to it too, but I guess to me it seems more like the time difference and already knowing a lot of what actually happened.
Cobe: No, I think you're bang on about the social media side of things because even if you don't want to know the results, it's impossible - you turn your phone on and it's the first thing that you see in your feed, right. It's kind of hard to avoid in that situation.
NWB: Yeah, it's the world we're in nowadays, I mean, you pretty much have to turn your phone off or have it on flight mode. That's what I would do to avoid certain NFL or soccer results. I'd go incognito for a few hours. But then someone would come up to me and ask "Did watch the game" and the feeling is "Don't tell me the score!". So that's what it reminds me of.
Bonnie: I'm right with you, I'm right with you.
NWB: Do you follow any other sports, Bonnie, outside of speedskating?
Bonnie: I mean yeah, outside of our sport, I was trying to watch everything. I was flipping between the channels and I was trying to watch as much of it as I could. I still don't understand all of the curling rules and all that happens with curling. I know talking to Canadians, you guys understand the curling but watching I still don't get it. But no, I definitely watched as much of the games as I could. I called myself an Olympic junkie. I was kind of glad that it was all over, because I was tired. Like I said, I was used to following speedskating and seeing the results. With it going on in the middle of the night, I'd wake up to go the bathroom and check my phone and see how did we do. I was tired so I was glad to get a couple of good nights sleeps here. But I'm a big hockey fan, my son plays Division 1 hockey, I love hockey, and I know Canadians love hockey too. Other than that, golf is something that I like to watch, follow and play myself. Although, living in Wisconsin, we're not playing golf right now, I'll just settle for watching it. Like I said, I am an Olympic junkie, but hockey and golf are my next two go to's.
NWB: Good stuff, we like to hear that. You came to Canada in 1988 when you went to Calgary but when you were in Canada, did you enjoy a poutine, did you have one of those?
Bonnie: Yeah, now correct me if I'm wrong but that's a little more East Coast versus Alberta and that area, so yeah. It's been a while since I've been out your direction but I know what it is and it's very good.
NWB: Yeah, that's good, good to hear. And next time you're up here, we'll get you a poutine and I'm sure Cobe or Justen can teach you about curling. I understand it, but I get it, but there's still nuances that.. it's a little bit like bowling, a little bit like lawn bowls with a little bit of cornhole in there. It takes getting used to, that's for sure.
Bonnie: Exactly, one of these times I'll figure it out.
NWB: There we go. Now you touched on how some athletes were impacted by Covid and that's makes me think of someone in your family because you coach your daughter and your daughter was going to the Olympic trials in speedskating when unfortunately she tested positive. Tell us about how long you've been coaching her and what's next going forward for her in the sport.
Bonnie: Yes, this was her second time qualifying to compete in the Olympic trials. Last time, for the last Olympics it was more like it was a big deal just for her to make it to the trials. This time she made it solidly to be in the trials and then like you said, tested positive. So just to explain exactly what happened, our Olympic trials started on a Wednesday and the Thursday prior, no matter where you were coming from, to come to the trials, which happened to be in Milwaukee, you had to go get a test done on the Thursday - a PCR test. Because at that time, numbers were pretty high, so it was taking a lot longer for the results to get back, but you had to do a pre-test on your own, depending on where you were, some were in Minneapolis and some were in Salt Lake City. Then once you arrived in Milwaukee, you then had to test again, either Monday or Tuesday. Well, her first test came back on a Saturday and my husband was the one who actually wasn't feeling very well and he was worried that he was going to be testing positive. And he opened his results and he was like, yes, I'm negative, thank God! And then Blair opened hers and she was like "I'm positive" and we were like what " What do you mean you're positive?" Like she had no symptoms, nothing. So we quickly got on the phone to US Speedskating. They sent us off to do another test, which was on a Sunday, hoping that her first test was just a false positive. And then it came back positive again and then they said that's it, she's out - she can't take part. So anyway, it was an unfortunate situation, she never had symptoms and then you're just like alright, we'll just move on and look forward to the next Games.
She wouldn't have made our team this year, they took two, three actually wound up getting to skate the 500, that's when Brittany Bowe gave up her spot for Erin Jackson - that was our daughter's best event. She probably would've been 5th or 6th so she wouldn't have made it and like I said, more of her thought process was looking to the next Games in 2026. This Olympics trials were kind of like her Olympics, like it was kind of a big deal. It was going to be sold out, it was going to be on TV, it just adds so much difference to the whole spectacle. But as it turned out, they didn't allow spectators, so she didn't miss as much as she thought she would have . Anyway, she has continued to train, we're actually going to be headed to Salt Lake. They've got some regular training sessions on March 5th and then the following week we've got our final America's Cup competition that she'll take part in and then the following weekend we'll head up to Calgary where they have what they call the oval finale, but they've even had that competition dating back to when I competed. So she's still got some racing to do for the rest of the season and then like I said, just already looking down the road to 2026 and taking each day and month and race as it comes.
NWB: There we go, I'll be keenly watching that and our friend of the show, Catriona Le May Doan, you may have heard of her, she's out at Calgary. I'm sure you might run into her, when you're up there.
NWB: You'll definitely have to grab a poutine when you met Catriona. I know she's a fan of a poutine and also a brew, so it'll be great times at the Oval, I've heard good things about that oval.
Bonnie: Yeah, definitely some great memories in my book and I'd love to go up there, so with Catriona there's a lot of other skating friends basically from when my husband and I competed, so always nice to go up there for sure.
Cobe: Now, Bonnie how involved are you with the speedskating program in the United States.
Bonnie: Yeah, a little bit, I kind of call myself a good helper if they need something, I'm definitely there to help them out. I chat quite a bit with the likes of Brittany Bowe and Kimi Goetz, a little bit with Erin Jackson although I don't know Erin as well. And then some of the skaters, one of the best male skaters is best out of here, Jordan Stolz, 17 years old, coming on like gangbusters this year. So he's in the Milwaukee area so I see him all the time. So I'm not majorly involved with them but if they need something or whatever like starting a mentorship with some of us alumni. So now I actually mentor one of the girls, it's my husband that coaches them and I'm like his sidekick. I do the video and I help out when he can't be there. He's more the mastermind behind everything and one of the girls that he coaches was one of the people for me to mentor, which I was already doing, but I guess it makes it just a little more official. They've asked some of the alumni in the States here to do a mentorship with some athletes so I think it's a nice program that they started and I hope it's something that they continue moving forward.
Cobe: So Stolz had a nice Olympics, had a good showing. Was Erin Jackson's gold medal a surprise or were you expecting her to podium?
Bonnie: Well, Erin Jackson started out the season with the first four World Cups winning I believe in the 500. Having seen her at our Fall World Cup trials, she definitely looked to the eye that she was skating better. Technically, she looked better and her times were going really really well. Sometimes it's hard to tell with Salt Lake for the fact that you're at altitude and the ice is always wicked fast, so it's hard to judge against anybody else, unless everybody else is there. So I knew she was skating well, but she never podium-ed before. So for her to get to that first World Cup and slingshot right to #1 was pretty exciting. Like I said, she did that four times in a row and then in the next couple she maybe wasn't on the top rung but the top 5, so we definitely knew that given what she had done earlier, she had a good shot at it. And when our Olympics trial came and we only had 500 they actually skated, which I wasn't a fan of but I wasn't the one making the rules She had a pretty good stumble that put her in third and third didn't qualify you for our Olympic team. So like I said, Brittany Bowe had given up her spot for Erin and had not have happened, Erin wouldn't have been able to go the Olympics and somebody said you guys wound up getting three athletes to be in the 500 but that really only happened when some of the others didn't show up at the Olympics and because of Brittany's time and what she skated, she was then able to be in the 500. But if Brittany wouldn't given up her spot, she wouldn't have qualified for our team in the States and I'm not sure if they would have sent her over quickly because it wasn't written in our rules and regulations. So I think some of those things for even what happened with Erin will be looked at a little bit closer going into the Olympic trials and kind of like I say, they really should have done two 500s and that was a mistake to begin with. As it turned out, it almost was, if it wasn't for Britney.
Cobe: Yeah you make a good point about that for sure. The other thing I heard off and on from different competitors was that the ice was not the greatest there. Have you heard that from anyone or no?
Bonnie: I haven't actually got the chance to talk to anyone that's been there yet. I know they were either coming back or going on to the next competition. The ice wasn't all that great and there was a world record in the 10,000 but that guy is crazy stupid good. As far as there were quite few Olympic records but a lot of those Olympic records were since the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City, which were again at altitude. So it took 20 years to get to those times. So it wasn't like they're just getting Olympic records from here and there. So number one, being at a lower altitude, that was one reason why it was going to be slower. I think the ice probably was slower, however, the icing was pretty fair consistent throughout each race. So it's not like it was changing from the first set of pairs went to the last set and I think that's kind of what for an athlete, what you've got to look at was it fair for everybody. I think yeah, it wasn't at altitude, so it's not going to be wicked fast but you got Mark Messer from Calgary who has done the Olympics since 2006. Mark has been kind of what we call the Ice Meister, the head of making ice. He's really good, he comes from Calgary and then they've hired him for all the other Olympics. So if I know Mark's there, I know he's making the best ice he can with whatever it is he's got to work with. So that's kind of what it looks like. And as I said, they skated quite a few Olympic records, so it's not that bad but they did not skated at altitude ice. And for Americans, we had our trials here in Milwaukee, which is at sea level, which was on purpose, because there was at sea level, however, our athletes went back to Salt Lake in between time. I'm not sure that was the right move. I almost just think they should have just stayed here and then went over. But like I said, nobody asked for my opinion, but I'm not saying my way is right by any means but it just seems to me that makes more sense, especially if you can go to altitude or if you can to altitude or if you can be at altitude and go to a lower altitude, if you can do it in a quick couple of days and race, then you're good to go. But they were over there for too long to have any of the added benefits, that being in training at altitude will give you to skate fast at a lower altitude, if that makes sense.
Cobe: No, It fully makes sense and I think they should really ask for you more when it comes to preparation, I think your credentials speak for themselves.
NWB: You're kind of good at this sport. I think the Speedskating federation needs to work on that. They need to be dialing up Bonnie Blair-Cruikshank at the first opportunity. Now, just thinking about your career, you went to four Winter Olympics, if I'm not mistaken and you won a countless number of awards in addition to the medals that you won. What got you into the sport initially?
Bonnie: I'm the youngest of six kids and my brothers and sisters were into it way before I was born. As a matter of fact, the day before I was born, my Dad had my other siblings at an ice rink and it was announced over a loudspeaker whether I was a boy or a girl. That's how my Dad and my siblings found out what I was. Back then also Dads weren't allowed in the delivery room anyway and my Dad thought since my Mom had already done it five times already, she was good to go anyway and he had the rest of the kids, so yeah I followed my brothers and sisters footsteps and I just kept taking it to the next level and an excellence level and I just "what if'd" myself to death because even though I won, I didn't retire, I kept going a couple more Olympics after that.
NWB: Absolutely and it's good that you kept going because it's a heck of career that you had and I guess you also kept it in the family with Dave also being a speedskater, speedskating runs in the Blair-Cruikshank family.
Bonnie: Yeah, Dave and I were both in four games and we overlapped in three, so I was in '84, we were both in '88,'92 and '94 and then he went on to the '98 games as well. So five Olympics between us and yeah we've kept skating in the family. Blair didn't start out that way. She started out as a gymnast but my son Grant, he's been in hockey ever since he was 2 years old. So that was kind of his love and his passion and like I said, we're still at the ice rink, just for one reason or another.
NWB: Now, is Grant at Minnesota-Duluth?
Bonnie: No, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.
NWB: Ah ok, I always get the two mixed up. Now, one more question before we let you go. Now you've been involved in an organization close to where we are called Right To Play. I believe they were founded in Toronto, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about that?
Bonnie: Yeah, for sure. It was actually started by Johann Olav Koss, a Norwegian speedskater who won 3 gold medals in the Lillehammer Games, which was my last Olympics, where I won my last two. and he had done some travelling prior to the Olympics to some war torn areas and kind of realised that if you give kid a soccer ball it kind of changes their dynamics. These kids that are living in areas that are just heart wrenching. So when he got done with his Olympics and because he had won three gold medals, Norway was giving him money for each gold medal and he right then and there, took the winnings of those gold medals and started Right To Play. It wasn't called Right To Play in the very beginning but it has been Right To Play for so long, I start to forget what he called it in the very beginning. But yeah, it's really about touching kids lives and letting them know play can make such a difference in somebody's life. Whether it's about setting goals and accomplishing something and having teamwork and things like that and I think Johann realised that touching some of these kids lives, hopefully they wouldn't turn and then pick up a gun and then go and be one of the bad guys in some for these countries. You try to get a kid to get educated, learning and them learning sport can change their whole dynamic. And from that it really escalated into a lot of different things. You know it's just not where this organization affects countries of war-torn areas but even in New York City where there's probably some areas that aren't as well off and kids get in trouble and they wind up getting them involved in programs to have them see things in a different light and to try to be a better human being. So it's kind of gone off in a few different areas to what Johann started it to be but it has really wound up touching a lot of different lives and Johann as got athletes like myself to be what he calls, sport ambassadors. So hoping in various ways to try and raise money for all these different entities that can really help touch kids lives and make their lives a much better place and steer them in the right direction.
NWB: There you go, you love to see it and long may it continue. Now Bonnie we can find you on Twitter if I'm not mistaken @bonnieblair. Do you have any other social medias that you would like to share with our audience.
Bonnie: I'm on Instagram, @bonnieblairc. I feel like I've missed a bit of the boat with the whole multimedia thing so I always feel like I'm still learning so I don't quite have the following that others have but I feel like I'm getting there and I keep trying. So I think that's one of the things that I'm sure I can you can hear in my voice that I still have a passion for the sport that I grew up in and I'm lucky enough to have had success in. Having said that, I as well as my husband, we're trying to build our sport back up a little bit. Our numbers have definitely fallen way off but over the course of the last few years and I get that there's a lot of avenues and different sports for these next generations to be involved in but it was a great way of life that my husband and I grew up in and that we're still involved in and we'd be involved in it one way or another, with or without our daughter skating. But I think that's one of the things that we'd like to so then there's the skating group that my husband heads up and I'm a sidekick, called DASH and people can look there. We're looking to get things going and going in the right direction, we're looking for funding, we're looking for athletes, we go to public sessions trying to pull kids out of that and say "Do you want to be a speedskater?". So we're trying to do what we can to get our sport to be what it was when my husband and I were growing up, because we do feel like it has dwindled quite a bit, because if we're not careful, we're going to be we're not going to be having very many speedskaters at all. A lot of the speedskaters on US speedskating right now, have come from the sport of inline. Erin Jackson, Brittany Bowe, Joey Mantia and they all hail from California and that doesn't sound like the hotbed of US speedskating, but it is right now. If we can get some of those guys from there and we still try to get more from here and the Milwaukee area and some bigger cities right next to it, like Chicago, Madison and Green Bay, we hope we build of of some of those cities and build our sport back up again.
NWB: There we go, I see there's a snowball eating contest, so when you're in Canada, myself and Cobe we are going to throw down and there's going to be a snowball eating contest.
Bonnie: We could do poutine! We can make it how ever we want to.
NWB: There we go, In fact, if you can challenge Catriona to a poutine or snowball eating contest and film it for us, that would be awesome.
Bonnie: That would be great hahaha we'll see what we can do.
Cobe: It was a pleasure talking to you Bonnie, obviously you're still passionate about it and they should really talk to you next time when it comes preparing the team.
Bonnie: I'm not saying I have all the right answers but I think we definitely have some great alumni that still have a great passion for the sport and although they're using utilizing for some of the mentorship but we could get utilized a little bit more and I think we're willing to. So I might not have all the answers but let's pow wow about some things and try to make thing better and always make sure our ship is going in the right direction.
NWB: For sure, for sure, thanks Bonnie.
Bonnie: Thankyou guys.