Kearns • Blair Cruikshank spent the weekend focusing on herself.

Her introspection led to personal records in all four events she skated at the USA Speedskating Long Track National Championships at Utah Olympic Oval. In three of the four races, she turned in the top time for a junior, securing her a spot on the Junior World Cup team and the 2019 overall junior national crown.

It’s a good thing the Wisconsin skater has a grip on who she is, because with those kinds of results, people might start mistaking her for someone else: her mom.

“People on the outside are like, ‘Your mom is Bonnie Blair!’ ” Cruikshank said. “I’m like, ‘She’s my mom.’ It’s never really a thought, and I guess I won’t ever really understand what it’s like to be on the outside.”

Cruikshank’s mother is one of the most decorated speedskaters in history, winning five gold medals and a bronze over the course of four Olympics. Her father, Dave Cruikshank, is also a three-time Olympic speedskater who won a Junior World Championship at age 17 and is a member of the USA Speedskating Hall of Fame.

‘She knows that what I did is not normal. She gets that."
Olympic speedskater Bonnie Cruikshank, nee Blair, on her daughter, Blair Cruikshank

Their collective shadows loom large. Not wanting to be crushed by them, Cruikshank first tried competitive gymnastics. When wrist issues forced her from that sport, she turned to the ice but clung to her hockey skates. Her lack of interest in the puck and stick, however, was only rivaled by her lack of interest in following her parents’ blade marks.

Julie Jag | The Salt Lake Tribune Blair Cruikshank, right, won the junior overall title at the U.S. Speedskating Long Track National Championships on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. Cruikshank, 19, is the daughter of Olympians Bonnie Blair (left) and Dave Cruikshank.

“I was like, ‘That’s what you guys did,’ ” she said. “I just wanted to be different.”

Cruikshank, 19, can’t remember why she eventually locked her heels into a pair of speed skates six years ago. She just recalls her immediate rapture.

It took longer for her skills to come around. Unlike her brother, Grant, who had been skating since he was 2 and is now a captain on the Colorado College hockey team, she couldn’t even do a crossover when she started.

So, Cruikshank is on the long track in more ways than one. She started with a single 500-meter race (her mother’s specialty) in 2015 and has slowly built up from there. Her goal is to compete in the 2026 Olympics in Italy.

Her results over the weekend hint at her potential to be racing over the Olympic rings sooner than that, though. In three races she placed among the top eight while competing against elite senior team members like Kimi Goetz and Erin Jackson, who, in addition to national bragging rights, were vying for berths to the World Single Distance Championships. The world championships, the most important event in a non-Olympic season, will be held at the Oval on Feb. 13-16.

It should be noted that Cruikshank only got to test herself once against Team USA star Brittany Bowe. The Olympic medalist sat out most of the weekend’s races because she pre-qualified for the world championships in the 500, 1000 and 1,500. Bowe decided to race the 1,500 as a training exercise Sunday and won handily.


Still Bowe, who won her first international medal in 2012 and will be 34 when the 2022 Olympics are held in Beijing, said performances like those of Cruikshank and fellow up-and-comer Giorgia Birkeland — who won the junior mass start national title Saturday — give her hope for the USA’s future in the sport.

“Blair has all the genes one could ask for,” Bowe said.

Those genes could be as much a curse as a blessing. Cruikshank has picked up some aspects of the sport more easily than she otherwise might have. And she said critiquing video of her mother skating has helped her with her technique and visualization. But those genes also carry expectations.

Her mother said those only come from those on the outside looking in.

“She knows she’s her own person, and she knows that what I did is not normal. She gets that,” said the 55-year-old who now goes by Bonnie Cruikshank. “Even I know that. I know what I did — that’s not normal.”

The best thing her daughter can do, she said, is the same thing that led to Cruikshank’s success this weekend: Focus on herself.

“You’ve got to take care of yourself first. You have to do that first before you can worry about the others around you,” the Olympian said. “You take care of yourself first and do the things you need to do, and hopefully that cream will keep rising to the top.”

Cruikshank’s first Junior World Cup of 2020 will be in Belarus on Feb. 15-16 and the Junior World Championships will be in Poland on Feb. 21-23.

Photo courtesy of John Kleba | US Speedskating Casey Dawson of Park City races to the junior overall title Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, the final day of the U.S. Speedskating Long Track National Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

USA Speedskating Nationals Results

WOMEN

500 — 1. Kimi Goetz, 37.72; 2. Erin Jackson, 38.15; 3. Brianna Bocox, 38.47; Also, 6. (1st junior) Blair Cruikshank, 40.33

1,000 — 1. Kimi Goetz, 1:14.24; 2. Brianna Bocox, 1:15.97; 3. Mia Killburg-Manganello, 1:16.63; also 7. (1) Blair Cruikshank, 1:20.95

1,500 — 1. Brittany Bowe, 1:54.90; 2. Mia Killburg-Manganello, 1:57.00; 3. Kimi Goez, 1:57.20; Also, 11. (1) Blair Cruikshank, 2:07.38

3,000 — 1. Mia Killburg-Manganello, 4:12.81; 2. Paige Schwartzburg, 4:17.78; 3. Rebecca Simmons, 4:27l59; Also, 8 (3) Blair Cruikshank, 4:47.55

5,000 — 1. Mia Killburg-Manganello, 7:25.05; 2. Maria Lamb, 7:33.09; 3. Dessie Weigel, 8:10.97

Mass start — 1. Mia Kilburg-Manganello; 2. Paige Schwartzburg; 3. Rebecca Simmons

MEN

500 — 1. Kimani Griffin, 35.16; 2. Brett Perry, 35.48; 3. William Gebauer, 35.75

1,000 — 1. Joey Mantia, 1:07.84; 2. Kimani Griffin, 1:09.13; 3. Conor McDermott-Mostowy, 1:09.27

1,500 — 1. Joey Mantia, 1:44.0; 2. Emery Lehman, 1:44.95; 3. Ethan Cepuran, 1:47.41

5,000 — 1. Emery Lehman, 6:21.88; 2. Casey Dawson, 6:34.90; 3. Ethan Cepuran, 6:37.90

10,000 — 1. Emery Lehman, 13:29.75; 2. Casey Dawson, 13:51.83; 3. Ethan Cepuran, 13:53.54

Mass start — 1. Ian Quinn; 2. Ethan Cepuran; 3. Conor McDermott-Mostowy