World Cup Speed Skating : Bonnie Blair Derails East German Sweep

Times Staff Writer

Here are some things that Bonnie Blair still has:

1) A cold.

2) A cough.

3) A problem breathing.

Here is something that Blair doesn't have anymore:

1) A world record.

Blair lost it Sunday at the World Cup speed skating event at the Olympic Oval and it took a world record 500-meter time to beat her.

Even though Blair's record got iced, U. S. Coach Mike Crowe said his team is right on track for the Olympics.

"I think we've shown that we belong," he said.

This has been heard before. Since the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo when a touted U.S. team was shut out of any speed skating medals, the Americans have staged a kind of comeback. They have vaulted into a position where medals are not only considered possible, they will be expected at the next Olympics.

In fact, many believe that speed skating may be America's best chance for medals in any of the Olympic sports.

Crowe's view is that his team is comfortable with the pressure to produce medals. Just prick their fingers, he said, and they will bleed ice water.

"Having that pressure status, I think, doesn't have to be bad for us," Crowe said.

"We're not trying to catch up anymore," he said. "We're saying we like to be the best and we want to maintain it."

Christa Rothenburger of East Germany shattered Blair's 500-meter mark with a record time of 39.39, four one-hundredths of a second faster than Blair, who had a poor start and finished second with a time of 39.56.

If Crowe learned anything about his speed skaters, he probably already knew most of it anyway.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with Bonnie," Crowe said. "I'm really, really happy with what she did this weekend."

Almost single-handedly, Blair disrupted the dominance of the East German women's team.

Of the 18 medals awarded in 6 women's races here, the East Germans won 13, Blair won 4 and Marieke Stam of the Netherlands won the other.

Blair was clearly the top American at the World Cup and even though she lost her world record in the 500-meter sprint, she improved her status in two longer races, the 1,000-meters and the 1,500-meters.

Blair competed in four races. She had a first and a second in the 500-meters, a second in the 1,000 when she set a U.S. record and a third in the 1,500. Her first-place in Friday's 500-meter race was the only race the East Germans did not win.

Crowe said he was especially impressed by Blair's work in the 1,000 and 1,500, where she is expected to challenge the East Germans for a medal at the Olympics. Crowe said he has been coaching Blair to change her tactics in those two races.

"We've been working on her pacing," Crowe said. "I want her to attack from the beginning. . . . The way she raced here was more the way I like to see her attack."

While Blair was a one-woman show for the U.S. team, the American men had quite a few problems, but neither Crowe nor his top skaters seemed particularly worried.

"As a team, going into this week, I thought were were a little bit ahead of where we ought to be and now, on a whole, I still think we're in a good position," Crowe said.

American men finished no higher than seventh in the first two days. However, Nick Thometz came back Sunday to place second in the 1,000 meters behind Igor Zhelezovsky of the Soviet Union.

Thometz and Dan Jansen, the top Olympic medal hopefuls for the United States, were not completely healthy. Both were recovering from upper respiratory infections.

Thometz, the world record holder in the 500-meter sprint, took himself out of last weekend's Butte World Cup after one race because he was ill and Jansen missed two complete days of practice this week.

"What that did was make them off-step," Crowe said. "And you can't be off-step on this track."

Jansen said that it's far too early to get very worried about the times right now.

"When you consider we're kind of slow starters at the beginning of the year, I wouldn't say it's worrisome yet," he said. "We'll come on after Christmas.

"As far as Nick and I are concerned, we're definitely not too pleased, but we just joke about it. We're both confident we'll skate better later on. We're not real down, but we're not real happy either."

Said Thometz: "We've got a long way to go. I don't feel real good with my performance, but I'm not really that disappointed either."

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