Blogtober Day 5: Eric Heiden
As a speed skater, Eric won three World All-Round Championships and four World Sprint Championships and set 15 world records. But what he's most known for are his Olympic accomplishments; he won five gold medals in five events in Lake Placid 1980, from the 500m all the way up to the 10,000m. He's the only speed skater ever to win all five events in a single Olympics, and is still the most successful Winter Olympian at a single Olympics. By himself, he won almost half of all the medals won by the entire U.S. delegation in Lake Placid, for crying out loud!
Funnily enough, Eric was only a top speed skater at the elite international level from 1977-1980, when he retired. But he then went on to become a professional racing cyclist. He won several American professional races, winning the 1985 U.S. Professional Cycling Championship to become the American road race champion. And then he took part in the 1986 Tour de France. Bad-ass much?
But wait for it. Eric earned his M.D. from Stanford University in 1991 and became an orthopedic surgeon. In 2002, 2006 and 2010, he was the team physician for the U.S. Olympic speed skating team, and in 2009 was a part of the team of doctors who helped J.R. Celski rehab from a gruesome thigh injury and recover in time for the Vancouver Olympics. How do you not love a guy who gives back to the next generation of athletes?!
In 1980, speed skating had already started to become specialized; sprinters focused on short races, and long-distance skaters focused on long races. But along comes Eric Heiden, who was a total anomaly as an Olympic-caliber racer at every single distance. And then he won the gold medal in all of them.
What Eric did in 1980 would be like Usain Bolt winning every running event, 100m and 10,000m alike. It's completely unheard of. And with the way specialization is today, it's something that will never happen again. Ever. To steal a phrase from Bret Hart, he's the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
And, come on, he's in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame as a speed skater and has also been inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. How many athletes can claim they're in hall of fames for two different sports? [Insert crickets chirping here.]