Retired On Top
Heiden was paired with the 10,000-meter world-record holder, Viktor Leskin of the Soviet Union. The ice was particularly fast that morning, and Heiden knew he would have to outdo himself to compete. Both skaters left the starting block strong, and kept a steady and graceful rhythm, with Heiden setting a blistering pace. Coach Dianne Holum was on the sidelines encouraging Heiden to slow down, for fear he'd tire too soon. With two miles left to race, Heiden's left arm began to droop, a telltale sign of fatigue.
Yet, despite his fatigue, Heiden's final time was 14:28.13, shattering Liskin's record and earning Heiden his fifth gold. In fifty-six years of Olympic speed skating, the United States had only earned nine gold medals. Heiden earned his five in just ten days. Between the previous night's hockey win and Heiden's wins, all of America was celebrating. President Jimmy Carter called the U.S. hockey coach, and may have tried to phone Heiden. But in a move characteristic of the skater, who treasured his privacy, Heiden had disconnected his phone.
Heiden carried the American flag in the closing ceremonies of the Games, and was received at the White House soon after. He then rushed off to compete in another world championship in the Netherlands, where he relinquished his four-year reign, finishing second. While still basking in his golden glow, Heiden announced his retirement from skating. Uncomfortable with the celebrity that came with his gold medals, he eschewed most endorsement opportunities—including the coveted Wheaties cereal box. "I really liked it best when I was a nobody," he said when he retired.