LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — When he skated onto the Olympic speedskating oval on Saturday, the one that still sits in front of Lake Placid High School, the past came roaring back for Eric Heiden.
“All the memories come back, you know, fond memories,” he said. “And you get to share it with your kids. How cool is that?”
It was the first trip back here for the 59-year-old Heiden since he won a stunning five speedskating gold medals at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. All were in Olympic record time and outdoors, no less, where skating against the wind was a given on every lap.
And when he skated back onto that ice for a lap around the oval with his 14-year-old son, Heiden was greeted almost like a rock star by the approximately 3,000 people at the village’s Winterfest celebration, people rushing up to take selfies with an Olympic hero like no other.
Heiden retired from speedskating at 21, one month after winning gold in the 500 meters, the 1,000, the 1,500, the 5,000 and the 10,000 at Lake Placid. He and swimmer Michael Phelps, at Beijing, are the only five-time gold medalists in individual events at a single Olympics. Mark Spitz won seven swimming golds at the 1972 Munich Games, but three came in relays.
On this day, Heiden was wearing sunglasses, a brown knit hat, blue jeans and blue hoodie with the United States Olympic Team logo on the front, and he soaked in everything the trip had to offer.
“We started driving down Main Street. The town has not changed at all,” Heiden said. “The shops are all the same. There might be different names, but Lake Placid has kind of held its own. Here’s the hotel we used to stay at. Here’s where we used to run. There’s the ice rink in front of the high school that we raced at.
“They looked at that and they just can’t believe they held an Olympics there. You’re probably never going to see any place like this again host the Olympics.”
Heiden’s once shaggy hair is now short and gray, but he retains the same easy smile and low-key manner that made him a hit in 1980. He said raising a family and his work as an orthopedic surgeon had prevented him from coming back over the past 38 years.
“It looked like a lot of emotions that kind of came flooding into his mind,” said Jon Lundin of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which manages the Olympic venues in the Lake Placid area.
Heiden, who learned to skate on a pond near his grandfather’s house in Madison, Wisconsin, said skating came so easy for him. And if he could turn back the clock?
“I’d probably be good, pretty competitive with these guys (today),” he said. “I get more impressed with what I did in 1980. The sport has progressed. There’s a lot of specialization.”