Speed Skating's First Big Star
Skoblikova began her international skating career in 1959, winning an all-around bronze medal at the World Championships. At the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, the first to offer women's speed skating, she competed in three out of the four events. She placed fourth in the 1,000 meter but won a gold medal in the 1,500 meter (setting a world record) and the 3,000 meter, her favorite distance. She didn't race in the 500 meter, thought to be her only weakness.
Skoblikova cut back on her training during 1961 and 1962 to focus on teaching, but still won the all-around bronze medal at the 1961 World Championships and the all-around silver medal the following year. She returned in a big way in 1963. At the World Championships in Karuizawa, Japan, she swept all four races—the 500 meter, the 1,000 meter, the 1,500 meter, and the 3,000 meter. She was humble in victory, telling Sports Illustrated's Shenker, "The others were just skating worse than I was."
Her greatest triumph, however, came at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, where the 24-year old duplicated her world championship success. The heavy favorite, she swept all four events: the 500, the 1,000, the 1,500, and the 3,000. She set world records in all but the 3,000. This last race took place as the ice was melting, so Skoblikova had to skate through some puddles, which slowed her pace. Yet instead of blaming host officials for the track's condition, writer Robert Condon quoted her in Great Women Athletes of the 20th Century. as saying, "The ice was perfect."
This feat—winning four gold medals in a single Olympics—has not been repeated by any other woman. Only two male athletes, American Eric Heiden and Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, have since done so. Only one other woman, Russian cross-country skier Lyubov Egorova, managed to equal, almost thirty years later, her tally of six gold medals. As a reward for Skoblikova's singular success, Premier Nikita Khrushchev informed her that she was being made a member of the Communist Party.
Skoblikova added to her gold medal collection at the 1964 World Championships in Kristinehamn, Sweden, where she won the 1,000, the 1,500, and the 3,000 meter races. For the second year in a row, she was named the world champion.
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