More than 40 years after his dominating performance at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, Eric Heiden is usually still considered by most experts as the greatest speed skater of all-time – the GOAT. At Lake Placid Heiden entered five events and won gold in all five, punctuated by a world record in the final event, the 10,000 metres. Through 2022 Heiden’s five individual gold medals at a single Olympic Games has been matched only by Vitali Shcherba (EUN) at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in gymnastics and Michael Phelps (USA) at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in swimming.
Heiden competed at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics, but he was quite young and did not medal. Between then and 1980 he was rarely beaten, winning the World All-Around title in 1977-79, while winning all four races in 1979, and three of the four in 1978. He was also World Sprint Champion from 1977-80, also sweeping the four races in 1979, while winning three in 1978 and 1980.
During his career, Heiden set nine world records – 3 in the 1,000 metres, 2 at 3,000 metres, one each in the 1,500 and 10K, and the sprint combination in 1980 and all-around combination in 1979. He also set seven junior world records between 1976-78. This was in the era of mostly outdoor rinks when many of the sports’ records were set at Medeo in Almaty, Kazakhstan, but Heiden never raced there once his career had peaked. He led the Adelskalender from 11 February 1979 to 7 March 1983, but his record score of 161.214 was not bettered by anyone outside of the Soviet Union, who skated at Medeo, until 1987.
Heiden retired from speed skating after the 1980 Winter Olympics, and turned to a complementary sport, cycling. He briefly competed as a track racer, but then turned to the roads. He won the 1985 US Professional road race, and competed for the 7-Eleven team, riding the 1985 Giro d’Italia, which he finished, and the 1986 Tour de France, which he did not. Heiden was inducted into the US Cycling Hall of Fame in 1999.
Heiden graduated from the University of Wisconsin and then entered medical school at Stanford University, graduating in 1991. He did an orthopaedic residency at UC Davis, and then did a fellowship under renowned sports medicine specialist, Jim Andrews. Heiden initially practiced at UC Davis, where he cared for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs. In the early 2000s, he and his wife, Karen, an orthopaedic hand surgeon, moved their practices to Park City, Utah. Heiden’s sister, Beth Heiden, was also a 1980 speedskating Olympian, a World Champion in speed skating, and the 1980 World Champion in the women’s road race cycling.
|Games||Discipline (Sport) / Event||NOC / Team||Pos||Medal||As|
|1976 Winter Olympics||Speed Skating (Skating)||USA||Eric Heiden|
|1,500 metres, Men (Olympic)||7|
|5,000 metres, Men (Olympic)||19|
|1980 Winter Olympics||Speed Skating (Skating)||USA||Eric Heiden|
|500 metres, Men (Olympic)||1||Gold|
|1,000 metres, Men (Olympic)||1||Gold|
|1,500 metres, Men (Olympic)||1||Gold|
|5,000 metres, Men (Olympic)||1||Gold|
|10,000 metres, Men (Olympic)||1||Gold|
|1980 Winter Olympics||15 February 1980||Speed Skating (Skating)||500 metres, Men||Final Standings||38.03||1|
|1980 Winter Olympics||16 February 1980||Speed Skating (Skating)||5,000 metres, Men||Final Standings||7:02.29||1|
|1980 Winter Olympics||19 February 1980||Speed Skating (Skating)||1,000 metres, Men||Final Standings||1:15.18||1|
|1980 Winter Olympics||21 February 1980||Speed Skating (Skating)||1,500 metres, Men||Final Standings||1:55.44||1|
|1980 Winter Olympics||23 February 1980||Speed Skating (Skating)||10,000 metres, Men||Final Standings||14:28.13 WR||1|
|1980 Winter Olympics||Flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony||USA||Eric Heiden|