SI Vault
E. M. Swift
February 26, 1979
Already established as world all-round champs, Eric Heiden won still more gold and kid sister Beth took the silver in the world sprint races to add luster to their glittering Olympic hopes
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 26, 1979

Icing A Family Fortune

Already established as world all-round champs, Eric Heiden won still more gold and kid sister Beth took the silver in the world sprint races to add luster to their glittering Olympic hopes

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Despite all the hoopla and pressure, Eric took the 500, 1,500 and 5,000. Then, having locked up his third straight all-round title, he went all out in the 10,000 and lopped seven seconds off the stadium record, skating the grueling 6� miles in 14:43.11 to finish a whopping 15.64 seconds ahead of the second-place racer. In a scoring system where a difference of one point is something of a rout, Heiden finished 4.8 points up on Jan-Egil Storholt of Norway. A total of 4.2 points separated second from 15th place. Eric is that far ahead of the rest of the world.

Heiden's fellow competitors are the first to admit it. In Inzell, after Eric tied his 1,000 world record, Peter Mueller could only laugh. Mueller, who won the gold medal at the distance in the 1976 Olympics, finished fourth at Inzell. "There's no one here he has to worry about," Mueller said. "Everybody else goes for second and third and so on. But I'd like to get closer than three seconds. Maybe a second and a half, or so."

The European skaters are no less awed, cheerfully raising Eric's hand after every race and posing admiringly for pictures with him. In fact, there is only one group that does not seem to consider Eric's success well-deserved. "The European skaters aren't as concerned about me as their coaches are," Eric says. "If they don't have a winning season, they get fired." And the person all these countries would like to hire to replace them is the Heiden family coach, Dianne Holum, the only woman coach of world-class speed skaters. Holum was a great skater in her own right, winning silver and bronze medals in the 1968 Olympics and a gold and a silver in 1972. That was the year she moved from Northbrook, Ill. to Madison, where Beth and Eric Heiden were members of the local speed-skating club.

Holum put the Heidens on a training program which she devised. It stressed dry-land training of all varieties—bicycling, weight lifting and a series of exercises meant to imitate proper skating technique—including the dread duckwalk. "They trained hard and made a big jump the first year," Holum says. "But that second year when they didn't make that big jump again, they had to learn patience. That was the big thing. A lot of the kids quit, but Beth and Eric stayed with it, even when they couldn't see the improvement."

A technique the Heidens use that is unique to the U.S. team is "special turn training." One day at their University of Wisconsin training facilities, Holum discovered the miracle of surgical tubing. She tied one end of a length of tubing around Eric's waist, then, holding the other end, she leaned back herself. Now Eric, while duckwalking in a skater's stance, could lean out as though negotiating an imaginary turn.

"It's hard to imitate turning on dry land, but a turn is half the race," Holum says. "That's where Eric is so good. Because of centrifugal force, you can build up speed on the turns that you can't on the straightaways. We do a lot of speed change work, too. You have to be able to work into the wind and relax when it's at your back. That's how Beth won in Holland, where it was awfully windy."

Beth is the sort of girl to which clich�s like "bright as a button" and "sharp as a tack" gravitate. But if she is all puppy on the outside, tucked away somewhere inside is a tiger. "Other people may be built better," says Holum, "and may be stronger, too. But Beth is more efficient. And she is a fighter. She feels that she has to make up for her size. She never understood her potential before. I'd tell her she could do a 4:40 in the 3,000, and she'd argue, 'No way I can do that.' But after she won the 500 at the world meet she decided, 'Hey, I want to win this thing.' It all had to come from within her."

Many of the top women sprinters had skipped the world championships because they do not excel at the longer races. So it was that Beth shocked both the field and herself by winning the 500 in 44.49 and the 1,500 in 2:13.79 on the first day at The Hague. With her superior conditioning, she found the strong wind an advantage. "I would have been happy to be in the top three," she said later, "but Dianne thought I could win it all. And then I heard from somebody that Eric also thought I could win. That meant a lot to me."

"I guess I was afraid to find my potential," she said. "I'll still argue if Dianne gives me a time to shoot for that I don't think I can make. But she's usually right."

Despite skating her best 500 of the year, Beth was trailing two East Germans, Christa Rothenburger and Sylvia Albrecht, by substantial margins going into the final 1,000 at Inzell on Sunday. Although Mueller was too far ahead to catch, Holum asked Beth to go for a 1:25, a full second under her previous best for the distance. And in the snowstorm, to boot. This is what Holum figured it would take to catch—and hold off—the East Germans.

Continue Story
1 2 3