|Date||31 January 1948 — 10:30|
|Location||Olympia-Eisstadion Badrutts Park, St. Moritz|
|Participants||42 from 15 countries|
|Olympic Record||43.4 / Ivar Ballangrud NOR / 11 February 1936|
43.4 / Jack Shea USA / 4 February 1932
43.4 / Bernt Evensen NOR / 13 February 1928
43.4 / Clas Thunberg FIN / 13 February 1928
The Norwegians and Americans were expected to fight for the medals in this event, although there had been no serious international meets prior to the Olympics. The world record was 41.8, but had been set in 1938 by Norway’s Hans Engnestangen, who was not competing in St. Moritz. Sweden’s Halle Janemar was also highly considered as he had won the 500 distance events at the 1946 Worlds and the 1947 Europeans. Of the Americans, Bobby Fitzgerald had won the US Olympic Trials, ahead of Del Lamb and Terry Browne (not on the team). The Norwegian qualification race took place in St. Moritz, a few days before the start of the Olympics. Sverre Farstad bested Thomas Byberg, winner of the 500 m at the Norwegian Championships and Torodd Hauer. The only skater from another country who might have stood a chance was Konstantin Kudryavtsev (USSR), who had set the season’s best time at that point. But with his country not competing in St. Moritz, leaving room for all four Americans and all four Norwegians to finish in the top eight.
Ice conditions were excellent throughout the race, allowing many skaters to set new personal bests. Already in the second pair, the Olympic Record, still dating from 1928, was broken. Cheered on by many of his countrymen, Bobby Fitzgerald sprinted to 43,2, a time that seemed fit for a medal. It was first approached by his team mate, Ken Henry, who crossed at 43,3. In the twelfth race, Finn Helgesen was up. Having narrowly qualified as the fourth Norwegian, he skated the race of his life. Shattering his pre-Olympic best of 43,7, he went one tenth faster than the leader. The Norwegian looked good for the gold medal, but some contenders remained in the second half of the field.
One of these was Ken Bartholomew (USA), who was drawn against Craig MacKay of Canada. The two false-started several times (sources disagree on the exact number, it may have been as much as thirteen), after which the pair was oddly withdrawn, only to try again after the 20th pair. When the race finally got underway, Bartholomew saw his Canadian opponent fall coming out of the final curve. Despite all this, the American still managed 43,2, tying with Fitzgerald. A third skater would join them two pairs later, as Thomas Byberg (Norway) finished his race in the same time. For the first time ever, three speed skaters shared a medal at the Olympics. The event turned into a virtual team meet between the United States and Norway, with each nation putting its four skaters among the top nine finishers, with Canada’s Frank Stack placing equal sixth.
The three silver medallists posed a problem to the organization, which only had two silver medals on hand. Therefore, it decided to hand out a bronze medal to one of the Americans, later to be replaced by one of the proper color. The American delegation picked Fitzgerald to receive the silver, and Bartholomew to receive the temporary bronze. This infuriated the temperamental Bartholomew, who refused to go to the medal ceremony. Instead, fifth-placed Ken Henry showed up, seemingly to receive this bronze medal on behalf of his team mate. But Henry kept the medal to himself, although he did win his own Olympic medal when he won the 1952 event in Oslo. It is not known if Bartholomew ever received his silver medal, but he was sent home by the US team leader immediately after the incident. Despite his status as one of the best American sprinters in the coming years, he was never again selected for international competition.
|=23||6||Aad de Koning||NED||45.9||–|