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Speed Skating at the 1948 Sankt Moritz Winter Games:

Men's 500 metres

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Host City: Sankt Moritz, Switzerland
Venue(s): Olympic Ice Stadium Badrutts Park, St. Moritz
Date Started: January 31, 1948
Date Finished: January 31, 1948

Gold: NOR Finn Helgesen
Silver: USA Ken Bartholomew
NOR Thomas Byberg
USA Bobby Fitzgerald

Summary

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times (sources disagree on the exact number, it may have been as much as thirteen), after which the pair was oddly withdrawn, only to try again after the 20th pair.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.

Final Standings

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal T 1c
1 Finn Helgesen 28 Norway NOR Gold 43.1 10.7 OR
2T Ken Bartholomew 27 United States USA Silver 43.2 10.6
2T Thomas Byberg 31 Norway NOR Silver 43.2 10.7
2T Bobby Fitzgerald 24 United States USA Silver 43.2 10.6 OR
5 Ken Henry 19 United States USA 43.3 10.7
6T Sverre Farstad 27 Norway NOR 43.6 10.9
6T Torodd Hauer 25 Norway NOR 43.6 10.8
6T Del Lamb 33 United States USA 43.6 10.7
6T Frank Stack 42 Canada CAN 43.6 10.8
10 Mats Bolmstedt 27 Sweden SWE 43.7
11T Halle Janemar 27 Sweden SWE 44.0
11T Åke Seyffarth 28 Sweden SWE 44.0
13 Keijo Lehdikkö 27 Finland FIN 44.7
14T Janós Kilián 25 Hungary HUN 44.8
14T Antero Ojala 31 Finland FIN 44.8
16 Lassi Parkkinen 30 Finland FIN 45.2
17T Gordon Audley 19 Canada CAN 45.3
17T Kalevi Laitinen 28 Finland FIN 45.3
19 Ab Hardy 37 Canada CAN 45.5
20 Göthe Hedlund 29 Sweden SWE 45.6
21T Choi Yong-Jin 25 South Korea KOR 45.7
21T Kornél Pajor 24 Hungary HUN 45.7
23T Aad de Koning 19 Netherlands NED 45.9
23T Lee Hyo-Chang 25 South Korea KOR 45.9
25 Johnny Cronshey 21 Great Britain GBR 46.0
26 Vladimír Kolář 20 Czechoslovakia TCH 46.1
27 Anton Huiskes 19 Netherlands NED 46.2
28 Kees Broekman 20 Netherlands NED 46.3
29T Aage Justesen 30 Denmark DEN 46.4
29T Jan Langedijk 37 Netherlands NED 46.4
29T Bruce Peppin 23 Great Britain GBR 46.4
32T Dennis Blundell 26 Great Britain GBR 46.5
32T Enrico Musolino 19 Italy ITA 46.5
34 Ákos Elekfy 24 Hungary HUN 46.8
35 Henry Howes 19 Great Britain GBR 46.9
36 Giorgio Cattaneo 24 Italy ITA 47.2
37T Iván Ruttkay 21 Hungary HUN 47.4
37T Gustav Slanec 34 Austria AUT 47.4
39 Rudolf Kleiner 23 Switzerland SUI 47.8
40 Pierre Huylebroeck 25 Belgium BEL 48.3
41 Ferdinand Preindl 35 Austria AUT 48.7
AC Craig MacKay 20 Canada CAN DNF