Eric Heiden 25: Race-by-race analysis

By Charlie Snyder // // February 17, 2005

In 1980, Eric Heiden did something no Olympian — man, woman, U.S., foreign, summer or winter – has ever done before or since. He won five individual gold medals at one Olympic Games in speedskating in events as diverse as the 500-meter sprint to the 10,000-meter endurance challenge.

In celebrating the 25th anniversary of this amazing physical accomplishment, Heiden sat down with and went over each race and told us what stands out in his memory about those golden races.

Feb. 15, 1980
Heiden, who had won the overall World title in 1977, 1978 and 1979, came into the 1980 Olympic Games as a favorite in all of his events, but he had a strong challenge in his first event, the 500, defeating Yevgeny Kulikov, the defending Olympic champion and world record-holder.

1. Eric Heiden, USA, 38.03 (Olympic Record)
2. Yevgeny Kulikov, SOV, 38.37
3. Lieuwe de Boer, HOL, 38.48

Eric Heiden: “A couple of things stand out. One was the weather was a beautiful day, sunny. Something you hope to have every day that you skate. The last turn of that race is really what won it for me. You hope that you never have to finish on the inner on the 500 meters, but that was the lane that I had drawn. I went into that corner and didn’t hold anything back and the training paid off.”

Feb. 16, 1980
Heiden was 19th in this event as a 17-year-old Olympian in 1976. He returned to the Games in Lake Placid and won this event over the current world record-holder Kai Arne Stenshjemmet of Norway.

1. Eric Heiden, USA 7:02.29 (Olympic Record)
2. Kai Arne Stenshjemmet, NOR, 7:03.28
3. Tom-Erik Oxholm, NOR, 7:05.59

Eric Heiden: “I was happy to get out of the 5000 meters with a victory because through out my career it was a very hard race for me physically. I consider myself lucky to have won that. It was a slim margin, a very slim margin.

Feb. 19, 1980
Heiden had set the world record a month before the Games. He was paired with Canadian Gaetan Bouch and as was the case in the 500 and 1500, the person paired with Heiden earned a silver medal.

1. Eric Heiden, USA, 1:15.18 (Olympic Record)
2. Gaetan Boucher, CAN, 1:16.68
3. Vladimir Lobanov, SOV, 1:16.91

Eric Heiden: “The 1000 meters, again it was a nice day. The thing that stands out was my pair. I was paired with Gaetan Boucher who I considered my chief rival. A very good pair for me because he was a sprinter who’d get out very fast, which meant that I had somebody to chase. It was an excellent race.”

Feb. 21, 1980
Heiden slipped in this race, but it didn’t change the outcome, which was the closest of the five races, winning by just .37 seconds.

1. Eric Heiden, USA, 1:55.44 (Olympic Record)
2. Kai Arne Stenshjemmet, NOR, 1:56.81
3. Terje Andersen, NOR, 1:56.92

Eric Heiden: “The closest race, when you consider the other participants, was the 5000, but the 1500 meters … the thing that stands out is I had a big slip about 600 meters into that race. It looked bad when I had a chance to have a look at the video after that. I’ll tell you, it never entered my mind when it happened that something bad had happened. It was just one of those things where the subconscious must have taken over and I had a slip and gosh, it never phased me.”

Feb. 23, 1980
Heiden watched two friends from Madison, Wis., — Mark Johnson and Bobby Suter – on the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians the night before and proceeded to oversleep. He woke up two hours before the race and only ate three slices of bread prior to the race. He was matched with the Soviet Union’s Viktor Leskin, the world record-holder, in the second race. Leskin took a big lead, but Heiden got faster and faster as the race unfolded … finishing three-quarters of a lap ahead of the Leskin. Heiden set the world record by more than six seconds.

1. Eric Heiden, USA, 14:28.13 (World Record)
2. Piet Kleine, HOL, 14:36.03
3. Tom-Erik Oxholm, NOR, 14:36.60

Eric Heiden: “I was glad to see it on the last day. 10,000 meters … if you skate a hard 10,000 meters it’s a hard thing to recover from for probably three, four days. Again it was a race. Physically, I was certainly up to it, mentally though I was starting to be very fatigued. I started out not very focused because my preparation was not up to snuff and mentally I was very fatigued. Before the race, I sat down with my coach and we decided that I was going to have to skate a time near world record time. I was paired with the guy who was the world record holder at the time, Leskin. In the middle of the race, he took off. I remember Dianne being very adamant about me staying on my schedule and not chasing him. At some point he was probably 150 meters up the track.

“Caught him, passed him and never saw him again.”

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