This was the first Olympic speed skating medal event ever contested by women. The favorite was Soviet skater Tamara Rylova, who had set the world record of 45.6 at Medeo in 1955, and had won the 500 at the World Championships in both 1958 and 1959. In the opening pair her teammate Nataliya Donchenko posted 46.0, considered to be a fast time. But the time was beaten in the next pair, when East Germany’s Helga Haase finished in 45.9. Haase had competed at the Worlds since 1956, but had never placed better than sixth at any distance, with a best overall finish of sixth in 1958. Rylova was in the seventh pair, but could post only 46.2, which would leave her out of the medals. The bronze medal was secured in the ninth pair, when Jeanne Ashworth, many-time American champion, finished in 46.1. Haase never bettered her time of 45.9 and never again won a distance race at a major international. Her gold medal was the first ever won by any athlete from the GDR (East Germany). Haase had come to Squaw Valley without her coach or husband, who were not given visas by US authorities.