The bleacher bedsheet banner read "Keep on Glidin', Eric Heiden," and today, that is precisely how the ice man from Madison, Wis., won an unprecedented fourth gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
Actually, there was one bit of slip-slidin' today, when Heiden very nearly fell at the 600-meter mark. But he is so vastly superior to his competition that he still managed to win gold by almost 1 1/2 seconds and set his fourth straight Olympic record.
Heiden has demonstrated he is a skater for any season. He won the 500 in the sun, the 1,000 in the wind, the 5,000 in bitter cold and today the 1,500 meters in 35-degree temperatures with a mixture of snow and rain falling on a gloomy gray day. Saturday, he goes for five in the grueling 10,000 meters.
Conditions were much the same at Whiteface until Hanni Wenzel's beaming smile at the finish of the woman's giant slalom lit up the mountain.
Wenzel ended a frustrating string of runner-up finishes -- including a silver in the downhill on Sunday -- with a steady, though hardly spectacular, run down the mountain for the gold medal. Her triumph gave tiny Liechtenstein its first-ever winter gold and three medals in the competition -- her brother Andreas won silver in the men's giant slalom -- and both have one more race to go.
Heiden now has 48 hours to prepare for the 10,000 and he expects his major competition to come from Norway's Tom Erik Oxholm, the bronze medalist in the 5,000.
Norway's coach, Arne Liere, insisted today that "before the Olympics we thought the 10,000 meters was our best chance of beating him. You just have to accept he's the best, and you have to have a team to beat him. His slip? He would have had to fall completely today for someone to beat him."
While his sister Beth found the pressure of the Olympics rather unbearable, Eric Heiden seems to revel in the attention, even if he says he does not. Today's most inane question concerned what Heiden ate for breakfast.
His answer, though, gave a hint of the lucrative opportunities that await him when he retires from speed skating after this season.
"Three bowls of Kellogg's Corn Flakes and two pieces of raisin bread," he said.
Heiden insisted, however, that he does not want to become a Bruce Jenner clone. "I don't want to sell myself like a lot of people have done," he said, with his agent, Art Kaminsky, sitting a few rows away.
"I just want to stay the way I am. I don't want anyone to stick me on a pedestal. That would bum me out.I want to be the way I am. I think I'd get uptight if people always praised me. I'd like to be relaxed and have a good time.
"I kind of enjoy when people have expectations. It gets me psyched up to skate well. All the time I've been here, I skate for myself. I don't care what you guys write. Write what you want. I know I don't enjoy what happens after I skate. (The movie) 2001 is on right now, and I'd like to be watching that."
Wenzel, meanwhile, hardly was complaining about all the attention. Her breakfast of champions also included corn flakes -- no emphasis on the Kellogg's -- and she finally performed like a champion today.
Wenzel, 23, has been a runner-up, most of her career, suffering her most disappointing loss in the final event of the World Cup circuit last year, when she lost the race and the championship to Annemarie Moser-Proelll.
Today, Wenzel had only the third-best time of the second run over the 1,231-meter, 50-gate course. Her time of 1 minute 27.33 seconds gave her a combined clocking of 2:41.66 for the two runs, however, nearly a half second ahead of silver medalist Irene Epple of West Germany.
Perrine Pelen, 19, of France, took the bronze, with the top American finisher, Christin Cooper of Sun Valley, Idaho, seventh, Cindy Nelson of Ludsen, Minn. was 13th and Heidi Preuss, fourth in the downhill, finished 17th. Moser-Proell, the Austrian downhill champion, was sixth.
In cross-country skiing, East Germany's four-woman team captured that nation's seventh gold medal, winning the 4x5 kilometer relay. The Soviet Union won silver, Norway bronze and the U.S. finished seventh in an eight-team field.
America's hockey team had its final workout before meeting the Soviets in the first round of the medal tournament Friday, and Coach Herb Brooks insisted on a George Allen-like closed session.
There were reports that the game, scheduled for 5 p.m., would be switched to 8:30 p.m. to accommodate ABC television, which would like the game in prime time. Network and hockey federation officials huddled all day today.