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Former Olympians Blair, Savoie Weigh In On Sochi Winter Games

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(Duration: 4:43)

Matt Savoie practices at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship Colorado Springs in 2006.

Matt Savoie practices his routine for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

Illinois Public Media spoke with Champaign native and Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair, who's representing the U.S. in Russia, as well as Peoria native and former figure skater Matt Savoie.

Blair's record of the most medals - six - stood for several years, broken by Apolo Anton Ohno.  She said it's possible Shani Davis of Chicago could at least tie that mark.

"The ones that sometimes have more of the shot are the short-trackers, just because they have an opportunity to be in more events," she said. 

In an interview with Illinois Public Media's Scott Cameron (linked on the left), Blair said she wasn't aware of the political behind-the-scenes happenings (Russia's anti-gay laws) until she was selected to head to Sochi.

"I think winter sports is usually been pretty good, where the politics and stuff has stayed out of it.," she said.  "But this time it seems like it's kind of drawn some things up.  I hope for the most part, people realize that what's about to happen the next couple of weeks is all about athleticism."

When asked about the potential for terrorist activity in Sochi, she said, "I kind of going into wherever I'm going with my eyes open, and making sure I'm aware of my surroundings, and I'll do the same when I'm over there."

Savoie, who's openly gay, said Russia’s anti-gay measures seem ‘scary’ for LGBT athletes now participating in the winter games in Russia. 

He didn’t come out until after he retired as a skater.  Savoie married his partner in 2012.

But the Peoria native said he skated in a different environment during the Cup of Russia events in 2001 and 2002. 

“When I was competing, I never had any of those sorts of fears," he said.  "Either because I was not an out athlete, or they just weren’t as prominent, and I just wasn’t attuned to what the difficulties were for LGBT people in Russia.  But certainly I hope that when the games happen, and after the games, that people can be treated with equal dignity and respect, whether they’re athletes, coaches, their families, or the citizens of the country itself.”

Savoie called retired skater Brian Boitano a great representative of the U.S. He’s been named to the delegation of athletes sent to Sochi by President Obama.  Boitano also recently announced he was gay.

Now an attorney based in Boston, Savoie also competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and won three bronze medals during US Nationals competition.   He holds degrees from Bradley University, and the University of Illinois. 

Both Blair and Savoie will be part of Wednesday's 'Focus' program on AM 580 at 10 a.m., which also includes former olympic speed skater Katherine Reutter, a Champaign native.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn put out a news release Wednesday honoring athletes from Illinois who are competing in the Winter Olympics.

The list of eleven athletes includes speed skaters, figure skaters, hockey players, a bobsledder and a member of the women's curling team.
 
The state of Illinois has started a website featuring biographic information on Illinois athletes. It also includes information on where winter sports activities are available in Illinois.
 
Quinn also honored members of the Chicago Blackhawks who are playing Olympic hockey. Ten Chicago Blackhawks players are competing for five different countries.

Blackhawks player Patrick Kane is on the U.S. team.