Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Skating icon Eric Heiden still part of Team USA

By Thom Patterson, CNN
Eric Heiden powers his way toward a gold medal in the men's 1000 meter speed skating event at the 1980 Winter Games.
Eric Heiden powers his way toward a gold medal in the men's 1000 meter speed skating event at the 1980 Winter Games.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Heiden won five gold medals in speed skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics
  • Heiden: Apolo Ohno needs to focus more on skating when events near
  • The way Shani Davis trains can be "very demanding and very hard"
  • "When you go back for each Olympics you sort of get your ego stroked again," said the skating icon

(CNN) -- Five-time gold medal speed skater Eric Heiden was hanging out in a Team USA locker room Saturday, watching TV as a much younger phenom named Apolo Ohno broke his 30-year Olympic record.

That record, for the most decorated American man in Winter Olympics history, stood since 1980, when Heiden shot to fame at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

To hear Heiden tell it, watching the 27-year-old Ohno eclipse his record didn't matter much. "Apolo and I couldn't have cared less," said Heiden, now 51.

"All of us at this level don't really look at medal records as very important. We're very proud of what we are doing and what we've done as athletes -- and if you happen to win a medal all of us consider that to be a great thing."

The difference between Ohno's medals and Heiden's is that Heiden won his all during the same Winter Olympics, an unprecedented feat that astonished Olympic fans around the world.

Fast forward 30 years and Heiden's passion for athletic competition and camaraderie hasn't faded. Now an orthopedic surgeon, he treats and helps train the 2010 men's speed skating team, including Ohno.

You're always trying to work with what you've got. But I've never gone as crazy as telling somebody to do a cheese wrap.
--Olympic speed skating icon Eric Heiden
RELATED TOPICS

"Apolo is very dedicated and focused in his pursuit of the sport," said Heiden.

"But he needs to understand that when an event is coming up he needs to really start backing off some of those outside interests so he can put in the time and effort to be a world-class skater."

With a smile in his voice, Heiden offers an example of Ohno's recent appearance on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

"He's more of a celebrity personality than most of the skaters," said Heiden.

Heiden's fairly familiar with celebrity. Those five medals in Lake Placid got his boyish Wisconsin face plastered on newspapers and TVs worldwide. Although Heiden said he isn't recognized much anymore, once in a while his name "will fire a synapse in many people's minds."

Living a quiet life in Park City, Utah, with his wife, who is also an orthopedic surgeon, and two children, Heiden advises some of the world's fastest men on skates, including Ohno's friend and fellow Olympian Shani Davis.

Helping Davis, who won speed skating gold Wednesday night in the 1000m long track, requires "making sure that all his needs are taken care of," said Heiden. "Sometimes that can be very demanding and very hard." Davis accepts little training guidance from others.

One of the younger skaters on the U.S. team, 19-year-old J.R. Celski won his first Olympic medal Saturday with a bronze in the men's 1500m short track. What's remarkable, according to Heiden, was that Celski had been badly injured in competition just five months earlier.

Celski, who crashed into the boards during trials in September slicing a deep gash into his left thigh, has made a near complete recovery, said Heiden. He said Celski's race on Saturday answered important questions about his mental recovery. "Physically, we were sure he was good, but we weren't sure about his confidence level before the race."

Celski said he'd met Heiden before his injury, but it was while the doctor was treating Celski that they got to know each other well. "He's very humble and very down to earth, and I strive to be like that as well. It was great to get to know him and talk to him for who he was -- and not for what he did," said Celski. "He was one of the hardest working guys in the sport, and that's why he did so well."

The cheese remedy: A second opinion

Would Dr. Heiden offer a second opinion about U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn's much talked-about home remedy for a bruised shin? She injured herself during practice just days before winning gold Wednesday in the alpine downhill. Vonn's remedy: wrapping her shin with a soft Austrian cheese.

"We like to practice evidence-based medicine," he said jokingly. "I don't think anybody is going to take that remedy home and practice it on their patients."

The closest thing to a home remedy for Heiden was the random newspaper, moleskin or felt he and fellow skaters would use to pad their skate boots to make them fit better.

"You're always trying to work with what you've got," he said. "But I've never gone as crazy as telling somebody to do a cheese wrap."

Let's remember that before he became a doctor Heiden set four Olympic records and a world record at Lake Placid. Shortly after his history-making feat, Heiden launched a second career racing bicycles, eventually competing in the Tour de France.

This year, Heiden enjoyed Vancouver's opening ceremonies with other Olympic veterans, some of whom also gained fame on ice: figure skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton. Each Olympian, he said, knows what the other has gone through to reach their athletic dreams.

"We enjoy the limelight," said Heiden. "We were recognized for what we did. And when you go back for each Olympics you sort of get your ego stroked again."

Much has changed about long track speed skating in the past 30 years, but Heiden said no single development has done more to push athletes faster around the icy oval than the clap skate. Unlike traditional skates with blades well-fixed at the bottom of the boots, the blades on clap skates are hinged at the balls of the feet, shaving a precious 2 seconds off a skater's time with each lap.

"I'm jealous, I wish I'd had a chance to try those things."

Has anything else changed in the sport over the years? Yes, he said, most speed skaters now perform in warmer indoor venues.

Laughing he describes the effects of brutally cold temperatures on the male anatomy.

"Oh boy, these guys have no clue how cold it can be out on an open rink."

Part of complete coverage on
Games' legacy: Canadian resiliency
With the Winter Games set to close Sunday night, you can almost hear the Canadian officials saying, "We told you everything would work out."
Ten things that went wrong
Even before competition began, the Games faced criticism over weather and a fatal crash. The accidents, mistakes and embarrassments kept coming.
Quitting the Games
Tom de la Hunty took Dutch bobsledder Edwin van Calker to the track one last time Tuesday and asked his driver if he could do it.
SI: Schedule and results
Get the latest results from the Games and check out the schedule to see when your favorite sport will be played
Medals and athletes
More than 2,600 athletes from 82 countries are expected to participate in the Games. See which countries are winning medals and how many athletes they sent to Vancouver.
Send us your Olympic stories
Send us your videos and photos of Olympic excitement from around the world, and let us know how you are following the action.