Host City: Lake Placid, United States
Date Started: February 14, 1980
Date Finished: February 14, 1980
Participants: 128 (74 men and 54 women) from 20 countries
Youngest Participant: Marzia Peretti (14 years, 241 days)
Oldest Participant: Örjan Sandler (39 years, 148 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): Eric Heiden (5 medals)
Most Medals (Country): United States (8 medals)
The 1980 Olympic speed skating competition took place on an outdoor track set up at James B. Sheffield Stadium, the Lake Placid High School football stadium, with the field flooded to create a speed skating oval. It was not considered a fast track, as the ice was shallow, and the stands were small, with little protection from the wind.
The speed skating events were highly anticipated because of the appearance of Eric Heiden who, over the past three seasons, had established himself among the greatest speed skaters of all time. Heiden had skated at the 1976 Winter Olympics, placing 7th in the 1,500 and 19th in the 5,000, and then had placed fifth at the 1976 World All-Around Championships. He had not lost an all-around or sprint all-around competition since that meet, winning the 1977-79 World All-Arounds, the 1977-80 World Sprints, and because of his youth, also winning the 1977-78 Junior World All-Arounds. In the last two years he had rarely been defeated in any single distance race, winning all four races at the 1979 Worlds and World Sprints. It was considered a possibility that Heiden could win five gold medals in the five Olympic events, though that was considered a difficult feat, to be certain. But in the end, he would do just that, winning all five gold medals, finishing it off with a world record in the 10,000.
On the women’s side, another Heiden was thought to have a chance to win multiple gold medals as well. Eric’s sister, Beth Heiden, was the 1979 World All-Around and World Junior Champion, even winning all four races at the 1979 World All-Around. But she was not as dominant as Eric, and was better in the long distances. It was considered possible that she could win medals in all four women’s races. In the end, Lake Placid had a decidedly different outcome for her, as she struggled and won only one medal, a bronze, that in the 3,000. It was considered a disappointing performance and the American press castigated her for the effort, but she handled it with class. In the end the four women’s events were won by four different skaters, with Lake Placid a coming out party for the GDR’s Karin Kania-Enke, a former figure skater who won the 500 metres and would establish herself in the coming years as one of the top women’s sprinters.