Host City: Sapporo, Japan
Date Started: February 4, 1972
Date Finished: February 4, 1972
Participants: 118 (67 men and 51 women) from 18 countries
Youngest Participant: Lee Gyeong-Hui (13 years, 338 days)
Oldest Participant: Jeanne Omelenchuk (40 years, 325 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): Atje Keulen-Deelstra and Ard Schenk (3 medals)
Most Medals (Country): Netherlands (9 medals)
The 1954 World Championships had been held in Sapporo, but at Maryjama Park. For the 1972 Winter Olympics a new rink was constructed, the Makomanai Skating Centre. It was an outdoor rink with artificial ice, but despite its low altitude of only 71 m above sea level, it proved to be a very fast rink. The rink continues to exist and has hosted numerous international competitions, notably the 1986 and 1990 Asian Championships, the 1991 World Winter Universiade, and the 1994 Asian Single Distance Championships. One innovation in 1972 was that all times were taken electronically and timed to the hundredth of a second for the first time in speed skating at the Olympics. This also reduced the tendency for ties in the shorter distances.
The big story in 1972 was on the men’s side where Dutch skater Ard Schenk was attempting to win all four gold medals, to duplicate the feat of Lidiya Skoblikova on the women’s side in 1964, although the 500 was a long shot for him. Schenk was the best skater in the world, having won the 1970 and 1971 World Championships, winning the three longer distances en route in 1971, and setting nine world records in 1971. But his attempt would come to failure in the first race, the 500, when he fell. However, Schenk recovered to win the three longer distances, matching the feats of male skaters Clas Thunberg in 1924, Ivar Ballangrud in 1936, and Hjalmar Andersen in 1952.