|Date||14 February 1968 — 10:00|
|Location||L'Anneau de Vitesse, Grenoble|
|Participants||48 from 17 countries|
|Olympic Record||40.1 / Terry McDermott USA / 4 February 1964|
The defending champion was the United States’ Terry McDermott, who had not competed outside the United States since the 1964 Winter Olympics. Although speed skating had always been contested by all-around skaters, by the late 1960s it was becoming more common for skaters to specialize either as sprinters or distance skaters. One such skater was German Erhard Keller who had competed at the 1966 and 1967 World Championships, but came to the fore as a sprinter in early 1968, winning the 500 at the World Winter University Games in January, and later in the month, breaking the world record at Inzell with a time of 39.2. Keller was the favorite with McDermott an unknown factor. The early leader came out of the third pair, Norway’s Magne Thomassen, who had won the 500 at the 1964 European Championships and finished in 40.5. Five more pairs went thru, and Keller then presented himself in the ninth pair, posting a 40.3 to take the lead. The lead seemed safe, mostly because it was a warm day and the ice was melting, making conditions very difficult for the later skaters. It most affected Terry McDermott, who went off in the 24th, and final, pair. Inexplicably, though no other skater in the last five pairs bettered 41.6, McDermott finished in 40.5 to tie Thomassen for the silver medal. Keller was gracious in victory, stating, “What [McDermott] did today was just sheer guts. If he had started in the earlier heats while the ice was still good, I’d have lost. It’s as simple as that.” But Keller was no fluke, as he would continue to win sprints over the next five years. He won the 1971 World Sprint championships, and won 500 distance titles at the 1969 and 1970 European Championships, the 1970 World Winter University Games, and in 1972, he would return to the Olympics and defend his gold medal.