1960 Squaw Valley
THE GREATS: Yevgeny Grishin and Lidiya Skoblikova (USSR)
At the previous Olympics, Yevgeny Grishin had won gold medals in the 500m and 1500m races. He returned four years later to the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley and promptly defended both titles — becoming the first speed skater in Olympic history to successfully repeat as Olympic champion at either distance.
His road to 500m glory was far easier than his road to 1500m success. In the tightest of contests, Grishin won by one-tenth of one second over American Bill Disney and by just two-tenths of a second over bronze medalist and fellow Soviet Rafayel Grach… and that was in the 500m.
At 1500m, just as he did in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Grishin was forced to share his gold medal with another athlete. In 1956 it had been teammate Yuri Mikhaylov as they shared the world-record time. In 1960 it would be Norwegian skater Roald Aas that split the accolades.
At Squaw Valley, Lidiya Skoblikova also showed flashes of her long-distance greatness when she won both the 1500m and 3000m races. Women were getting the opportunity to compete in speed skating for the first time, and Skoblikova swooped up gold in both of the longer events. In the 1500m, she would set a new world record pace, winning by half a second over Poland’s Elwira Seroczyńska. At 3000m, she would settle for a new Olympic record mark to win by more than two seconds over teammate Valentina Stenina.
- Sixten Jernberg (SWE/1xGOLD, 1xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
- Maria Gusakova (URS/1xGOLD, 1xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
- Viktor Kosichkin (URS/1xGOLD, 1xSILVER in speed skating)
- Veikko Hakulinen (FIN/1xGOLD, 1xSILVER, 1xBRONZE in cross-country skiing)
THE GREATS: Lidiya Skoblikova and Klavdiya Boyarskikh (USSR)
In 1964 a pair of Soviet women dominated the Winter Olympics in a fashion that forced the world to stop and take notice. Both would win every single event in her chosen sport, showing a level of dominance not unlike that of Toni Sailer on the ski slopes of Cortina eight years earlier.
Skoblikova returned to the Olympics in Innsbruck four years later, now 24 years old and in the prime of her illustrious career. Qualifying to compete at all four distances, the reigning world all-around champion erased any doubts about her dominance. At 500m she set a new Olympic record at 45 seconds flat to top an all-Soviet podium. In the 1500m on the last day of January, she lowered the Olympic mark she had set in Squaw Valley by another 2.6 seconds and repeated as champion by nearly three seconds.
Skating her third race in three days, Skoblikova would claim a third gold medal over compatriot Irina Yegorova on the first day of February by more than a second and set the Olympic mark in the new distance. And on the last day of women’s speed skating competition, she repeated as Olympic champion in the 3000m race; it would be the only time that she failed to lower the Olympic mark she had set the previous quadrennium.
On the cross-country tracks, Klavdiya Boyarskikh showed a similar level of dominance. The 24-year-old who grew up among the Ural Mountains found herself right at home in the Austrian Alps, winning both the 10-kilometer race and the new five-kilometer variety by more than two seconds. Boyarskikh then anchored the team relay that also captured gold in Innsbruck, giving her three gold medals out of three events.
- Eero Mäntyranta (FIN/2xGOLD, 1xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
- Sixten Jernberg (SWE/2xGOLD, 1xBRONZE in cross-country skiing)
THE GREAT: Jean-Claude Killy (France)
What is most mind-blowing about Jean-Claude Killy’s treble in Grenoble is not the fact that he won all three Alpine events. Rather it is the fact that, at just 24 years of age and with only two World Cup seasons under his belt, Killy retired from competitive skiing after the 1968 season and never looked back.
Fellow Frenchman Guy Périllat nearly ruined Killy’s coronation before it even commenced. Killy would win the downhill race by just eight-hundredths of a second over his compatriot. It would not be his last close call of the 1968 Games.
The giant slalom proved no trouble, as Killy won by a resounding 2.22 seconds over Switzerland’s Willy Favre. Périllat, the defending world champion in the discipline, was just off the podium in fourth place.
The toughest test for Killy was likely the last. Challenged by a pair of Austrians, the Parisian skier was forced to work to equal Sailer’s triple-gold exploits of 1956. Killy took the lead after the first run, 0.31 seconds ahead of Alfred Matt. Matt would slip to third on the final podium, passed by countryman Herbert Huber. Huber would challenge Killy’s aggregate time, coming within nine-hundredths of a second of stealing away gold. For most skiing fans, the first worldwide glimpse of Killy would prove the last they would ever enjoy in competition, as he retired two months later after winning his second consecutive World Cup title.
- Eugenio Monti (ITA/2xGOLD in bobsled)
- Luciano de Paolis (ITA/2xGOLD in bobsled)
- Harald Grønningen (NOR/2xGOLD in cross-country skiing)
- Ole Ellefsæter (NOR/2xGOLD in cross-country skiing)
- Toini Gustafsson (SWE/2xGOLD, 1xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
THE GREATS: Ard Schenk (Netherlands) and Galina Kulakova (USSR)
Ard Schenk arrived in Sapporo at the peak of his accolade-filled speed skating career, the two-time reigning world all-around champion. In Japan the 27-year-old Dutchman would win three gold medals out of four distances.
In the 5000m, the first race of the Olympic calendar of 1972, Schenk defeated Norway’s Roar Grønvold by 4.5 seconds. The following day, the ignominious part of Schenk’s Olympiad occurred when he could muster only 34th in the 500m sprint, finishing 3.98 seconds off the Olympic-record pace of gold medalist Erhard Keller of Germany.
Schenk would rebound quickly, setting his own Olympic record in the 1500 the following night to win his second gold of the Games, once again knocking off Grønvold for the victory. He would land the third gold in his signature event, the 10000m race. Entering the competition as the world-record holder, Schenk set his second Olympic record of the Sapporo Games with a time 3.35 seconds better than fellow Dutchman Kees Verkerk.
Galina Kulakova would likewise win three gold medals in cross-country skiing. After winning the 5km individual race by five seconds and the 10km race by more than 35 seconds, Kulakova anchored the Soviet relay team that defeated the Finnish team by 33 seconds. In the process Kulakova swept every gold medal on offer in her sport, a rare feat of domination in cross-country skiing.
- Vyacheslav Vedenin (URS/2xGOLD, 1xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
- Pål Tyldum (SWE/1xGOLD, 2xSILVER in cross-country skiing)
- Marie-Therese Nadig (SUI/2xGOLD in Alpine skiing)
THE GREATS: Tatyana Averina (USSR) and Rosi Mittermaier (West Germany)
In Innsbruck, Tatyana Averina would win a medal in every women’s speed skating event. Her Olympiad started with a pair of bronze medals in the 1500m and 500m races, solid enough for the defending silver medalist at the world all-around championships. Both times she had been under the reigning Olympic record pace.
And as she continued on into the 1000- and 3000-meter events on the final two days, it appeared that she had found her reserve of speed. Averina would win gold medals in both events, setting new Olympic-record times in the process. Two years later, she would win the first and only world all-around championship of her career.
Rosi Mittermaier nearly became the first woman to win all three Alpine gold medals at a single Olympics, a mark that would have equaled the feat of male skiers Toni Sailer and Jean-Claude Killy. She started well enough, winning the downhill race by more than half a second over Austria’s Brigitte Totschnig. The second gold medal came three days later, when Mittermaier skied the second-fastest time in the first leg of the two-run slalom. Finishing strong with the fastest time on the second run, she would claim victory over Claudia Giordani of Italy by a third of a second.
The giant slalom ended the dream for Mittermaier, though, as she was upset in stunning fashion by an equally shocked opponent. Canada’s Kathy Kreiner, just 18 but already competing in her second Winter Olympics, shocked Mittermaier and the skiing world with a run for the ages that was 0.12 seconds faster than the two-time gold medalist. Mittermaier would have to settle for silver in the process.
- Nikolay Kruglov (URS/2xGOLD in biathlon)
- Meinhard Nehmer (GDR/2xGOLD in bobsled)
- Bernhard Germeshausen (GDR/2xGOLD in bobsled)
1980 Lake Placid
THE GREAT: Eric Heiden (USA)
It takes a record-breaking performance to upstage the U.S. men’s hockey team that gave the world the Miracle on Ice. Eric Heiden had such a performance at Lake Placid in 1980.
For three years leading up to Lake Placid, Heiden had been the best speed skater in the world. He had won the both the world all-around championship and the world sprint championship three straight years from 1977 to 1979. The rare skater that can excel at both short- and long-distance events, Heiden came to the Olympics in 1980 with a bulls-eye on his back that he embraced by donning a gold suit and lining up for all five events contested.
He would pick up gold medal number one in the 500m race on February 15. He would defeat reigning gold medalist Yevgeny Kulikov by 0.34 seconds, breaking the Soviet skater’s Olympic record in the process. The following night he set another Olympic record in the 5000m, switching gears from sprinting to endurance racing with ease as he won by just under a second over silver medalist Kay Arne Stenshjemmet of Norway.
After two days of rest, Heiden and the other skaters returned to the rink for the 1000m race. Heiden would defeat Canada’s Gaétan Boucher by an absurd 1.5 seconds in the race, getting faster and faster as the meters built up en route to a third gold medal and a third Olympic record in the span of five days. Heiden’s margin of victory over Stenshiemmet would be smaller in the 1500m race than his win over Boucher in the kilometer. Of course, the gap between first and second was still greater than one full second, and Heiden set his fourth Olympic record time in four races.
The 10000m race, the biggest endurance test in speed skating, was the last thing standing between Heiden and immortality. At that point he wasn’t even racing against defending Olympic champion Piet Kleine of the Netherlands or any of the other skaters in Lake Placid; he was competing against time and history. He would ultimately break not only the Olympic record (set by Kleine in 1976) by more than 20 seconds, but he would also shave 6.2 seconds off the world record. Soon thereafter he would retire from the sport after finishing second at the world all-around championship following the Olympics in 1980, moving on to a professional cycling career that saw him become a founding member of the 7-Eleven team that competed at Europe’s biggest races in the 1980s.
- Hanni Wenzel (LIE/2xGOLD, 1xSILVER in Alpine skiing)
- Ingemar Stenmark (SWE/2xGOLD in Alpine skiing)
- Anatoly Alyabyev (URS/2xGOLD in biathlon)
- Nikolay Zimyatov (URS/3xGOLD in cross-country skiing)
- Barbara Petzold (GDR/2xGOLD in cross-country skiing)
THE GREAT: Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen (Finland)
Already by 1984 she had competed in two Olympiads, finishing far off the medal pace in every event she had contested in both Innsbruck and Lake Placid. But in Sarajevo, the 28-year-old Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen would hit the prime of her career and capture all three individual cross-country medals as well as a bronze in the team relay.
At the 5km distance, Hämäläinen defeated silver medalist Berit Aunli of Norway by more than ten seconds. At 10km, Hämäläinen ended up opening an 18-second gap on Soviet skier Raisa Smetanina, a gold medalist in both 1976 and 1980.
The 20km race, a new addition to the women’s cross-country skiing calendar for the first time at the Sarajevo Games, was further proof of Hämäläinen’s dominance. The Finn would get the better of Smetanina once again, beating the Soviet woman by 41.7 seconds in the longest of the races to claim all three gold medals in increasingly lopsided fashion.
Only the relay eluded Hämäläinen, though in fairness the fact that Finland had returned to the podium in the team event (after finishing fifth at Lake Placid) was a success in and of itself. Hämäläinen would go on to marry fellow Finnish skier Harri Kirvesniemi, and both would compete through six Olympic cycles to become the first husband-and-wife team to show such longevity.
- Gunde Svan (SWE/2xGOLD, 1xSILVER, 1xBRONZE in cross-country skiing)
- Karin Enke (GDR/2xGOLD, 2xSILVER in speed skating)
- Andrea Schöne (GDR/1xGOLD, 2xSILVER in speed skating)
- Gaétan Boucher (CAN/2xGOLD, 1xBRONZE in speed skating)