Decades later, Eric Heiden’s incredible run at the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympic Games only grows in stature.
The Wisconsin native delivered an incredible sweep of the men’s speed skating competition, winning gold medals in all five individual events, from the 500-meter sprint to the grueling 10,000-meter race. Perhaps even more amazingly, Heiden set four Olympic records and one world record in the process as he won more gold medals in a single Olympic Games than the United States as a team had won at any Olympic Games since 1932.
Heiden, who took the Olympic Oath before the Games began, was the first athlete to win five gold medals in a single Olympics.
His win in the 1,500 included a near-fall that required Heiden putting down his left hand to maintain his balance; he still won the race by 1.37 seconds.
The next night, Heiden decided to relax by watching the United States men’s ice hockey game against the Soviet Union. The Americans’ 4-3 “Miracle on Ice” victory was thrilling – and had Heiden so pumped up that he overslept the next morning and ate only a few slices of bread for breakfast as he rushed to the 10,000-meter race. Heiden won that event by near eight seconds, shattering the previous world record by nearly six seconds.
But as amazing as Heiden was on the ice, he retired from skating later that year to focus on his studies, as he worked to become an orthopedic surgeon. He did give cycling a quick try; winning the 1985 U.S. Professional Cycling Championship, participating in the 1986 Tour de France and earning induction into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame.
Heiden has been back to the Winter Games several times as team physician for the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team.