In stark contrast to the burlesque surrounding Eric was the Olympics his sister, Beth, endured. It had started, of course, two weeks ago, when little Beth, as she became known, finished seventh, seventh, and fifth in the women's 1,500, 500 and 1,000. Last Wednesday she had her final chance for a medal, in the 3,000. Paired with Bj�rg Eva Jensen of Norway, Heiden pushed her rival to within 1.13 seconds of the world record and the gold. Sabine Becker of East Germany, skating a personal best by an astounding 10 seconds, got the silver medal, while Heiden got the bronze.
But there was nothing very upbeat about winning the medal. There had been speculation that Heiden was overtrained, speculation that her ankle was bothering her, and rumors that she was jealous of her brother. She said nothing—to friends, family or coach. Driving to the ceremony at which Beth would receive her bronze, Holum said, "She's kept a lot of stuff inside her. Maybe if she had talked about it.... But she's young."
Heiden did, however, have some choice emotional words for the press, blaming it for applying undue pressure on her and her family. Afterward she broke into tears, and for any who saw it, the image of Heiden leaving the auditorium with her face pressed into the shoulder of Terry McDermott, a 1964 U.S. speed-skating gold medalist, with Kaminsky trotting along behind, will remain one of the haunting moments of these Games. "Life goes on," a family friend said later. "She'll probably go back to Madison and become a civil engineer."
Meanwhile Eric Heiden's life has become one of endless possibility—ranging from the short-term prospect of a celebratory skate down the luge run to his long-range goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Then again, Mark Spitz wanted to become a dentist. The Great Whoopee has a way of changing one's perspective. But there is time for all that. For now, it was a torchbearer at one of the medal ceremonies on Mirror Lake who said it best. Just before the start of the proceedings, as green laser beams cut across the night sky and a motorized hang-glider left a trail of sparks, the young man ran up to Heiden and said, "We're sure glad to be standing up for the American national anthem for once."
For once—times five.