Skating for Gold: Wisconsin's Olympic Speed Skaters, 1976-2006
Eric Heiden (b. 1958)
Eric Heiden is in a realm by himself, for no one before or since has won five individual gold medals at one Olympics. He is one of few speed skaters to combine powerhouse sprint starts, long distance endurance, effortless style, speed on the turns, and coolness under pressure — the results of his extraordinary ability to concentrate, endure pain, and train hard.
As a child Eric skated with the Madison Speed Skating Club team but did not begin training seriously until 1972, when Dianne Holum, an Olympic gold medalist and University of Wisconsin student, took him under her wing. Since Eric and his sister Beth started late in life, Dianne put the two teenagers on a rigorous training regime so they could catch up with their European counterparts.
In 1976 Eric went to the Olympics and placed no higher than seventh. The next year he began to dominate the sport, becoming the first American to win the men's world speed skating championship — a feat he repeated in 1978 and 1979.
Shortly after competing in the 1980 Olympics, Eric retired from the sport. He did try cycling, but failed to qualify for the 1980 Summer Olympics.
Since then Eric graduated from medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. He was the United States speed skating team doctor at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics.
Did you know?
Eric Heiden wore two pairs of skates during the 1980 Olympics. One pair of skates, along with his gold racing skin and stocking cap, is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Eric Heiden was part of the charter class of United States Olympic Committee Hall of Fame inductees along with 19 other athletes, including Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolph, Jim Thorpe, and Mark Spitz. At the ceremony, held on October 6, 1983, in Chicago, the "miracle" ice hockey team from 1980 also was inducted. Since then two other speed skaters, Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen, have been added to the Hall of Fame roster.