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    Saturday, December 27, 1997

    Blair: Switch to clap skates tough on U.S. skaters

     WEST ALLIS, WIS. (AP) -- Five-time Olympic champion Bonnie Blair says the switch to the new clap skate has brought frustration as well as speed to the world's top skeedskaters.
     Blair said American skaters, including husband David Cruikshank, have had to make a big adjustment, and she said she wishes the move to clap skates had been delayed until after the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan.
     Clap skates, introduced last year by European skaters, allow the heel to lift off the blade, which has produced faster times. But it takes a long time for skaters to alter their technique and Americans began training with them only last spring.
     "I would have liked to see this whole thing happen after the Olympics," Blair said. "Some skaters are adjusting and some aren't. It would have been nice for skaters to have three years to adjust instead of three months.
     "Then I think it would place everyone on more of a fair playing field," she said.
     Blair, attending Saturday's session of the Olympic speedskating trials, said she and Cruikshank are expecting their first child in July. She hadn't planned to make an announcement, she added, but her mother had been spreading the news.
     Blair, who retired after capturing gold at 500 and 1,000 meters in the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, said her husband has struggled to master the clap skate as he tries to make the Olympic squad for a second time.
     "Over the last few weeks, it's been a big difference," she said of her husband's battle with the new technology. "You know, it's been a real frustrating season for all the skaters. Up until about 2 1/2 weeks ago, he was still playing around with all of the variables."
     Cruikshank finished third in the 500 on Saturday.
     Although she no longer skates competitively, Blair said she has tried clap skates "just to see what it's like" so that she could understand what herhusband is going through. She admits she has not gotten used to them.
     "It would have affected it (her career), but which direction I'm not sure," she said.