The Popcorn Stand: The forgotten Olympic great

The old fuddy, duddy has to admit he’s having a hard time getting into these Winter Olympics and my inability to spell the city where the Olympics are being held is just one of the reasons. But whenever the Winter or Summer Olympics are held, I always have a nostalgic feeling for Olympics past.

And I always think about the 1980 Winter Olympics and not just because of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s improbable win over the Soviet Union and run to the gold medal. Of course I fondly remember as a patriotic American what that team did for the spirit of this country during a difficult time. And of course the main reason why the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team is most remembered is because the Americans beat those “Commie Bastards” as one of thousands of telegrams they received implored them to do.

But because of what that hockey team did — as great as it was and as much as it meant to this country — one of the greatest Olympic athletes — summer or winter — and a great American period — has gone overlooked.

On this date in 1980, Eric Heiden set an Olympic record in the 500 meters in speedskating at 38.03 seconds. He won that race on his way winning five gold medals at those Olympics. He won every race that was held in the Olympics at that time.

I’ve never forgotten Heiden. At the beginning of the 1980 Winter Olympics, he was the story. Little was expected of the American hockey team. Because of Heiden — ABC assigned its top announcer at the time — Keith Jackson — to do speedskating while the lesser known Al Michaels at that time was assigned to the hockey coverage.

Of course as that Winter Olympics went along, the American hockey team eventually took center stage overshadowing Heiden. But I also remember the incredible pressure Heiden was under — he was expected to win all five speedskating events and anything less would’ve been a disappointment.

Heiden came through. He’s now a doctor. And he’s largely been forgotten.

— Charles Whisnand


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