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Heiden relives Olympic memories in Lake Placid

February 27, 2018
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Gliding past the "Legends of the Oval" sign, Eric Heiden skated alongside his son Connor on the same 400-meter track where he won five gold medals nearly 40 years ago. This was perhaps one of the greatest moments at the Team USA Winterfest on Saturday, Feb. 24 on the Olympic Oval.

Heiden hadn't been in Lake Placid since his 1980 victories, and his participation inspired awe, excitement and occasional fanaticism from fans young and old. The line of autograph seekers extended almost to the end of the Oval infield, and his media appearances were nearly overtaken by fans and those looking for an autograph.

Heiden's Olympic accomplishments in 1980 clearly remain both relevant and inspiring so many years later.

Article Photos

Eric Heiden skates with his son Connor on the Olympic Oval in Lake Placid during the Team USA Winterfest event Saturday, Feb. 24. It was Heiden’s first visit to the Oval since his record-breaking five gold medal performance in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Photo provided

"It's been a lot of fun. I've been able to share the experience with my family which is pretty special," Heiden said. "This is a long time ago and they really don't have any idea of what Lake Placid was like or what I did, so it's nice to show them what this place was about."

Although some acknowledge that Heiden's feats may have been overshadowed by the "Miracle on Ice" victory when Team USA beat the Soviet Union team against all odds, the Games belonged to Heiden as well and his victory is still considered one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time.

Heiden's brief time skating on the Oval brought back many memories.

"It's pretty cool to take a lap with Connor, my son, it brings back memories," Heiden said. "I mean to skate down this back stretch and look at this high school and go around the corner and see the hockey rinks and think about all the stuff that went on here and see the tunnel you used to walk in and out of The memories are numerous."

After 1980, Heiden retired but kept active in the sports world. As a competitive cyclist, he won the 1985 the U.S. Professional Cycling Championship and competed in the Tour de France the following year. He also worked as an Olympic commentator for CBS sports from 1984 through 1994, sharing his knowledge with the viewing public.

Now most people know him not just as Eric Heiden, speed skating legend, but as Dr. Heiden, doctor to elite athletes and teams. After his numerous athletic career ended, he went on to Stanford Medical School to follow in his father's footsteps as an orthopedic surgeon. Heiden has since worked with various sports teams and individuals who seek the same athletic success that he enjoyed.

Heiden served as team doctor for the US Speed Skating Team in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. After the Sochi Olympics, he trained others to take over as doctors for the team.

This was the first year since 1976 that Heiden was not at the Olympics in some capacity. Instead, he watched from home, cheering on his niece Joanne Reid, who was competing in the women's biathlon event.

"I told her to keep her eyes open when she shoots, I don't know anything about cross country skiing or biathlon," joked Heiden. "I was at home watching and enjoying the Olympics with everyone else, trying to surf through all those NBC channels."

Like many sports fans, Heiden was impressed by the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

"I think about Ester Ledecka, who won gold in parallel giant slalom and won the super-G alpine event. I think of the (speed) skaters who were out there and made names for themselves with the Japanese team rising over the last couple of years and what the Koreans did. And the German hockey team are going to be playing in the finals for the first time in forever," Heiden said. "The one sport that really won me over is biathlon, that was fun to watch."

Heiden was not the only Lake Placid legend at the Oval last week. "Miracle on Ice" 1980 team goalie Jim Craig was also present, graciously signing autographs and sharing memories of his time in Lake Placid with the crowd. He remembers his time in at the 1980 Olympics vividly.

"I have my daughter and my wife here with me, so I was telling them what it was like when Main Street was absolutely packed, and I was interviewed in the middle of Main Street in a snowstorm, and I look at this oval and I can hear the crowds going crazy for Eric Heiden, and I look up and I can see every roof that's empty where people were standing on roofs cheering," Craig said. "Probably the greatest thing for me is that the chant 'U-S-A' started here, right over there, by two local firemen who chanted when we were losing against Sweden to get our team going, and now it's part of folklore and American sports history."

Craig returns to Lake Placid as much as he can to participate in the Miracle on Ice camp every March. He decided to participate in Winterfest because he strongly believes in the objectives of the USOC.

"The USOC has a lot of great corporate sponsors that help us athletes' dreams be fulfilled with sponsorships," Craig said. "So it's great to come back here and revisit Lake Placid and see some of the Olympians that have been so great."

Craig had been watching the Olympics, and was, of course, thrilled by the USA women's hockey team after its win over the Canadian team.

"It was awesome. I think they have worked really hard and committed themselves," he said. "I think they got over the hump too. They are just as good as the Canadian team, and now they have won so I think that will take a lot of pressure off them."

As part of the 1980 USA hockey team that bested the favored Soviet team, Craig is perhaps not surprisingly also a fan of the underdog in the Olympics.

"I think my favorite moments - there isn't really one - (are when) somebody that should win loses and how they react, and when somebody who nobody thinks will win, wins," Craig said. "Or when a sport that nobody knows about people get excited about, maybe just because the whole world stops and everybody understands that it's an athletic event that represents athletes and countries."

Craig was happy to see that Lake Placid remains much as it was nearly 40 years ago.

"(Lake Placid) has kept its beauty," he said. "It's a special place, and people can feel its spirit."

Figure skating fans had an opportunity to see Olympic figure skating stars as well. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, gold medalists in 2014, and Sasha Cohen, a silver medalist in 2006, signed autographs and greeted fans at Winterfest. Their time in Lake Placid was a homecoming of sorts, as all three had spent plenty of time here competing and or skating with Stars on Ice.

"This is the first winter Olympic games where we have not been focused on our performance at the Games; as two time Olympians, we are ridiculously passionate about the Olympic spirit and being a part of Team USA, so having a chance to be in the US, meet fans, and get people excited about the Winter Olympics is something we are absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to do," Davis said. "Being in Lake Placid, you don't have to get people more excited about the Olympics, they are already there."

"It's definitely a different feel being here during the Olympics. I think it's been a really fantastic Olympics so the spirit is high," White said. "I don't want to play favorites, maybe we are just here a lot, but this is my favorite Olympic site."

Cohen hasn't been in Lake Placid since her last Stars on Ice show several years ago.

"I can't believe how long it's been since I was last here, but coming in yesterday and checking into the Mirror Lake Inn, so many great memories came back," Cohen said. "I loved prepping for the show here, and it just reminded me of such good times that I had."

Even though she is no longer performing, Cohen is very enthusiastic about her role promoting the Olympics for Team USA.

"The Olympics are such a magical time, I have so many incredible memories," Cohen said. "I really defined most of my life through the Olympics, and every two years, especially every four years when it's Winter Games, I get to celebrate that spirit of excellence, and of global community coming together. Being able to come celebrate with legends like Jim Craig and Eric Heiden is just super-special to be part of this Olympic family."

The skaters all agreed that Nathan Chen's performance, which included six quads, was one of the highlights of the Pyeongchang Olympics. Chen, who won the Skate America men's title in Lake Placid in November, came back from a poor short program to skate an excellent long program in South Korea.

"(A highlight) was Nathan Chen coming back from a crappy short program, and I only say crappy because he had such a good long program," White said. "I wouldn't have felt comfortable saying that if it wasn't for proving himself and rallying to skate that long program."

"Nathan Chen landing six quads was just mind-blowing, what the sport has progressed to technically is really incredible," Cohen said. "It's a different sport than it was 10 years ago."

Davis and White were also happy to see Team USA's bronze medal-winning performances in the team event early in the Olympic competition, which is the event in which Mirai Nagasu became the first female American figure skater to land the triple axel in the Olympic Games.

"(We were) both saying that we really only had time to focus on the skating because we were both doing coverage in skating," Davis said. "My favorite moment was seeing the US team win bronze (in the team event). It's just so special as an individual sport to see people come together to make that happen representing their country. So, to see a lot of great performances for Team USA too, that was probably my favorite moment."

In addition to the athlete "meet and greet" opportunities, the Winterfest also included a s'mores-mobile giving out free samples, interactive skeleton simulators and pin-collecting stations. The next portion of the event included a Third Eye Blind concert and fireworks.



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