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  Heiden Wins 5th Gold, Most for an Individual

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 24, 1980; Page F1

 Eric Heiden insisted his five golds were no big thing: "They'll probably sit where the rest of them are — in my mom's dresser, collecting dust." (File Photo)
LAKE PLACID, N.Y., Feb. 23, 1980 — Eric Heiden did it one more time today, putting the final Midas touch on the most successful individual performance in the history of the Olympics, summer or winter.

Heiden, a 21-year-old speed skater from Madison, Wis., won his fifth gold medal of the 13th Winter Olympics, shattering the world record for the 10,000-meter race by more than six seconds.

Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in swimming in 1972, but three of them were in relay events. Today, as he had done in the 500, the 1,000, the 1,500 and the 5,000, Heiden did it alone, against the clock that has been his only real competition for two weeks.

He did it with absolute authority, a Secretariat on skates, who went out in his final Olympic appearance and demonstrated once again that no man is his equal at any distance in the world, that no man is even close.

When it was over, he insisted the five golds were no big thing. "They'll probably sit where the rest of them are — in my mom's dresser, collecting dust," he said. "Gold, silver and bronze isn't special. It's giving 100 percent and knowing you've done the best you can."

Today in tiny Liechenstein, nobody is buying that not-so-special theory, because Hanni Henzel won her second gold and third medal of the women's alpine skiing competition, posting the fastest time in both runs of the slalom. a

Wenzel, 23, became only the second woman to win three medals — matching Rosi Mittermaier's feat of 1976. "I didn't really count on winning and I would have been happy with any of the three medals," she said.

There was a triple gold winner today as well. Nikolai Zinjatov of the Soviet Union took the lead shortly after the halfway point and won the Winter Games version of the marathon, the 50-kilometer (31-mile) cross-country ski race at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Zinjatoy had prevailed previously in the 30-kilometer and won a gold as the anchor on the Soviet Union's 4 x 10 kilometer relay team. He finished the four-loop course today in 2 hours 27 minutes 24.60 seconds, almost three minutes faster than Finland's barehanded giant, Juha Mieto, who had to settle for his second silver of the Games. American Bill Koch was 13th.

In these Winter Games' most spectacular show, two flying Finns soared to gold and bronze medals in the 90-meter ski jump at Intervale.

Jouko Tormanen leaped 117 meters on his second attempt, tying him for the longest jump of the day, and took the gold, while his countryman, Jari Puikkonen, got third behind silver medalist Hubert Neuper of Austria. Jim Denney of Duluth, Minn., finished eighth.

On the next-to-last day of competition, the streets and avenues in and around Lake Placid were teeming with tourists, many of whom flocked to the speed skating oval this morning to witness Heiden's historic race.

There were 3,000 on the inside and hundreds more peeking over fences, leaning over balconies of nearby restaurants, and even hanging in trees. Heiden gave them all 14½ minutes to remember for the ages.

Heiden had spent the previous evening at the ice hockey arena watching a different sort of history in the making as the U.S. team upset the mighty Soviets, 4-3. He described it as "the biggest accomplishment I ever saw. ... God, that was great."

Today, he overslept by 70 minutes, waking up at 7:40 a.m., about two hours before his race. He grabbed three pieces of bread, jumped into a car and got downtown in plenty of time to warm up.

He was matched in the second pair, against the Soviet Union's Viktor Leskin, the world record-holder at the distance — before today.

In the first pair, Norway's Tom Erik Oxholm, the man Heiden thought he had to beat, posted a clocking of 14 minutes 36.60 seconds in the same pair with American Mike Woods.

"I didn't expect the time to be as fast as they were," Heiden said. "After seeing Woods and Oxholm skate, God, I was scared. I had to go out and go for it."

And so, he did.

He and Leskin were mostly even after the first five laps of the 25-lap race, and at the halfway mark Heiden took the lead for good. At that point, the man on the microphone announced Heiden was moving two seconds faster than Oxholm, and the crowd began to perk up.

With 10 laps to go, Heiden was 3½ seconds faster than Oxholm's pace, with seven laps, 5½ seconds faster, with four laps seven seconds faster. Now the crowd began its familiar chant. "Eric, Eric, Eric," they howled.

At the end, as Heiden flashed across the finish, nearly three-quarters of a lap ahead of Leskin, thousands of voices gasped as one as the scoreboard froze at 14:28.13.

His coach, Dianne Holum, standing across the track, hugged the U.S. team manager, Bill Cushman, while Heiden sat on a bench, put on his sweat suit and accepted congratulations.

He slowly skated twice around the practice lane of the track, acknowledging the continued chants of "Eric, Eric," then ducked inside the locker room to shower and wait for the end of an event that lasted more than five hours.

Heiden did not have to wait for long to celebrate. After former Olympic champion Piet Kleine finished in the sixth pair in 14:36.03, good for silver, Heiden knew the gold was his. Even while the last four pairs were skating, Heiden held his final press conference of the competition.

"I thought I could win one or two [gold medals]," he said, adding that the thought of five was "out of the question. "You guys [the media] said five, but that went in one ear and out the other."

Someone asked him what he liked about speed skating, a sport he later admitted never will really capture America's fancy.

"It's fun to get dizzy," he said. "You can go fast. It's not like you have to rely on something technical. It's only you. If you goof up, you have no one to blame but yourself."

But this was not a day to talk about blame. It was simply a Saturday to savor what this glib gold-medalist had accomplished.

In the last 56 years of American participation in the Winter Olympics, U.S.speed skaters had won 11 gold medals. Heiden won five golds here in 10 days.

He prevailed at distances that would compare in a track athlete grabbing gold in events from the 100-yard dash to the 10,000 meters, and all under the pressure of Olympic competition. He shattered Olympic records in every race, and smashed the world record in the 10,000.

He did it in sun, in snow, in wind, in sleet, in bitter cold. And today, Eric Heiden did it one more time.

© Copyright 1980 The Washington Post Company

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