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Eric Heiden

Wowed The World, Modestly

Heiden was one of the first American skaters invited to the Russian Cup competition at the Medeo Sports Center at Alma Ata, one of the world's fastest rinks. Though it was not documented, Heiden set a new record for the 1,000-meter event. The world speed-skating community was shocked that an American speed skater could perform so well. Heiden credited his success to the fact that European skaters are driven hard and expected to perform well. Heiden skated because he loved it, and had only to please himself. His success inspired American interest in the sport. Despite the international accolades he was raking in, Heiden remained modest.

Both Heidens easily made the 1980 Olympic Speed Skating team to compete in Lake Placid, New York. With his championships behind him, there was much more expected of Heiden than at his first Olympics; now, he was a star. Heiden's longtime friends and neighbors in Wisconsin, Mary and Sarah Doctor, also made the 1980 Olympic speed-skating team.

Heiden started the Olympics with the 500-meter race, his weakest event. He was paired to skate against Soviet world-record holder and gold medallist Yevgeny Kulikov. After a close race, Heiden pulled ahead to beat both Kulikov and his record to win the 500-meter gold. For his next event, the 5,000-meter race, Heiden was paired against Dutch skater Hilbert Van Der Dium. After trailing at the start of the race, Heiden again pulled in front to finish first, earning his second gold medal of the 1980 Games, and breaking another Olympic record.

It would have been unthinkable for Heiden to come away with anything less than a gold medal for the 1,000-meter event, and he did not disappoint. He never gave up the lead to Canadian Gaetan Boucher, and broke yet another Olympic record. Skaters were beginning to express their feelings of futility when skating against Heiden, and were not shy about their hopes that he would retire and give someone else a chance to win.

With two races to go, Heiden was not about to give any skater that chance. A slip during the 1,500-meter race against Norway's Kai Arne Stenshjemmet caused the crowd to gasp, as they watched Heiden break his rhythm and nearly fall. At the end of a race, when most skaters tire, Heiden mustered a burst of strength for the final push. He broke the standing Olympic record by four seconds and took his fourth gold. Heiden was just relieved that his most challenging event was over.

The night before Heiden's final event, the 10,000-meter race, the underdog U.S. hockey team was playing its final game, against the Soviet Union. Heiden was an avid hockey fan, and two of his former Pee Wee league mates were playing on the team that night. In a history making upset, the U.S. team beat the Soviets in the final moments of play. Heiden could not resist celebrating the triumph—termed the "Miracle on Ice"—with the rest of America and his friends in Lake Placid. Heiden awoke the next morning to find he had overslept. He dressed in minutes, grabbed some bread for breakfast, and rushed off to the rink.

Awards and Accomplishments

1977 Junior world, world, and world sprint champion
1978 Junior world, world, and world sprint champion
1979 World and world sprint champion
1980 First place, 500-meter race, Lake Placid Olympic Games
1980 First place, 1,000-meter race, Lake Placid Olympic Games
1980 First place, 1,500-meter race, Lake Placid Olympic Games
1980 First place, 5,000-meter race, Lake Placid Olympic Games
1980 First place, 10,000-meter race, Lake Placid Olympic Games
1980 Second place, world championship

Where Is He Now?

After his retirement from skating, Heiden took up competitive cycling until 1986. He won the U.S. Professional cycling championship in 1985 and rode in the 1986 Tour de France. He was a commentator for four Winter Olympics for CBS Sports, from 1984 to 1994. Heiden graduated from Stanford Medical School and followed in his father's footsteps to become an orthopedic surgeon and sports team physician. He now lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife, Karen Drews. He practices at the University of California at Davis and is an assistant professor there. He was chosen to serve as the official U.S. Speed-skating team doctor for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. "I feel that I'm giving back to the sport of speed skating, which in the long run has been pretty good to me," he is quoted as saying on the UC Davis Web site.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsSpeed SkatingEric Heiden Biography - First Love Was Hockey, Found His Niche In The Oval, Chronology, Wowed The World, Modestly - CONTACT INFORMATION