Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23, 1980: Five for Heiden

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Eric Heiden had planned to spend the night of February 22 resting up for the 10,000-meter speed skating event the next day. He needed the rest, too, having competed in each of the first four speed skating competitions at the 1980 Winter Olympics. The 10,000 meter race - about 6.2 miles - was by far the most grueling of the speed skating events, so he would be competing in the most physically demanding of the races after competing in four other ones in the previous eight days.

Plus, he had won all four events, so a victory in the 10,000 would give him an unprecedented sweep of the speed skating events and make him the first man to win five gold medals in a single Winter Olympics. Chasing history, and facing the most physically demanding of the races he would enter, Heiden should have been resting on the 22nd. He planned to be resting.

Then the Miracle on Ice happened, and all those plans went out the window. Heiden instead spent the night like so many other Americans did - cheering and celebrating all night. And really, who can blame him? Who would want to miss that party?

And so that is how Heiden showed up for the biggest race of his life tired and a little bit hung over, hoping to do just well enough to win his fifth gold.

Maybe all that partying was good for him. Or maybe his other competitors were Americans for a day the night before, also joining the celebration. Or maybe Heiden was just that good. Whatever the reason, he quickly and effortlessly turned the 10,000 into a runaway. Wearing his famous gold body suit, Heiden won without a challenge, beating silver medalist Piet Kleine by eight seconds and annihilating the world record, as well.

Heiden's strive for five gold medals made him the most popular individual athlete at the 1980 games. Though his story got overshadowed a bit by the Miraculous hockey team, his eight days in 1980 still rank as among the most impressive in Olympic history

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