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40 Years Later, Miracle And Heiden Highlight Lake Placid’s Olympic Memories From 1980

By Karen Rosen | Feb. 13, 2020, 10:50 a.m. (ET)


Do you believe … it’s been 40 years? Yes! It has been four decades since the world descended on the quaint village of Lake Placid, New York, for the biggest winter sports spectacle in the universe.

The United States hosted the Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1980 and stole the show.

The U.S. men’s ice hockey team defeated the formidable Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” game with the famous call by television announcer Al Michaels: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Team USA went on to win the gold medal.

And Eric Heiden became the first – and still only – athlete to win all five speedskating distances from the 500-meter to the 10,000.

Heiden’s sister Beth added a bronze in the 3,000-meter. That meant only six countries, including the United States, won more medals than the Heiden family. And only the Soviet Union, East Germany and the U.S. won more gold medals.

Among the dozen medals earned by Team USA, 11 medals were on ice and only one on snow – alpine skier Phil Mahre winning silver in slalom.

With the popular gold-medal favorites in pairs, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, forced to withdraw due to Gardner’s injury, Linda Fratianne and Charlie Tickner came through with figure skating medals.

Speedskater Leah Poulos-Mueller added silver medals in the women’s 500- and 1,000-meter as Team USA won more medals than any other country in the sport. Norway, which finished with seven, was one of four countries with one gold medal.

Lake Placid was a second-time host, with the world returning 48 years after it first hosted in 1932. This was the first Winter Games in which machines were utilized to produce snow, a precaution given the exceptionally dry winter.

Roni the Raccoon proved to be a popular Winter Games mascot.

The press center was in the local high school and information was expedited through computers for the first time. Computerized scoring was also used for the first time, while bamboo poles made their last appearance in downhill skiing events.

The Adirondack village of Lake Placid – population about 2,800 – is still the smallest municipality to host the Winter Games.

“Other small mountain communities will be able to follow our example in the future and stage Winter Games instead of relegating them to large cities, where athletes fade into the city commerce,” said Rev. J. Bernard Fell, president of the organizing committee.

While the Olympic Winter Games Albertville 1992 featured French villages, the Savoy region had a population of 350,000. Lillehammer had a great small-town Norwegian feel, but had a population of about 27,000 in 1994.

Beijing in 2022 will be the largest city ever to host the Winter Games.

Here’s a look back at Team USA’s medal winners in 1980.

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U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Team, Gold Medal

A team of collegiate hockey players coached by Herb Brooks pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in sports when it knocked off the venerable Soviet Union 4-3 on Feb. 22.

However, many people don’t know that this was not the gold-medal game. In fact, Team USA had to again come from behind to beat Finland on Feb. 24 to secure the title.

The Team USA journey began with a six-man power play and a goal by Bill Baker with less than 30 seconds left in the opener to tie Sweden 2-2. Team USA then defeated Czechoslovakia 7-3, Norway 5-1, Romania 7-2 and West Germany 4-2 (after trailing 2-0) in round-robin play.

That set up a Cold War showdown with the USSR, which had defeated Team USA 10-3 in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 9.

“For us, it was still a hockey game,” team captain Mike Eruzione told ABC News five years ago. “It had nothing to do with what was happening globally but the crowd, their reaction was ‘us against them, freedom vs. communism, the threat of a Cold War.’”

Mark Johnson tied the score at 2-2 with a second remaining in the first period. Vladislav Tretiak, considered the greatest goalie in the world, did not start the second period.

Trailing 3-2 in the third, Johnson scored again to tie it at 3-3. Eruzione gave Team USA the lead with 10 minutes left to break a 3-3 tie. Goalie Jim Craig stopped 36 shots on goal.

“I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe we beat the Russians, I can’t believe we beat the Russians,’” said Eruzione, “and the celebration was incredible.”

But if Team USA didn’t win its final game, it would win the bronze and the USSR would still capture the gold.

Against Finland, Team USA trailed 2-1 after two periods before rallying to win 4-2. Phil Verchota broke the 2-2 tie and Rob McClanahan, set up by Mark Johnson, put Team USA ahead for good.

Eric Heiden, All 5 Long Track Speedskating Gold Medals

The 21-year-old speedskater took the Olympic Oath for all athletes at the Opening Ceremony and then accomplished what he set out to do in his second Olympic appearance.

Heiden, who won world titles in 1977, 1978 and 1979, demonstrated his prowess in sprinting as well as his endurance. The three athletes paired with Heiden in the three shortest races all won silver medals.

On Feb. 15, he started with the 500-meter, an event he lost to teammate Tom Plant at the previous week’s world sprint championships. Paired with world record holder Yevgeny Kulikov of the Soviet Union, Heiden pulled ahead on the final curve when Kulikov slipped slightly and finished in with an Olympic record of 38.03 seconds on the outdoor oval.

A day later, on Feb. 16, Heiden set another Olympic record in the 5,000 with a time of 7:02.29.

He then had three days off. On Feb. 19, Heiden set his third Olympic record, this time in the 1,000-meter, clocking 1:15.18, and followed that with his fourth, 1:55.44 in the 1,500.

On Feb. 23, he capped his Olympic career with both the Olympic and world records in the 10,000, sweeping around the oval in his distinctive yellow suit.

“People will often ask me, ‘What race is the most satisfying, especially from the Olympics?’” he told Olympic Magazine. “I would tell you it is the 10,000 meters. It has to do with the fact that it is the longest race in speedskating. Those that do very well at it are technically very good skaters and they’ve had to put in a lot of time into this sport, they’ve had to really invest in their training and invest in speedskating. I’ve always cherished those who can skate the 10,000 meter the best and I think one of the greatest races I ever had in my career was the 10,000 meters in Lake Placid.”

His performance has never been equaled.

“What he did will never be done again,” said U.S. Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra, noting specialization in the sport.

“At the time I did not realize what I had accomplished, the implications of what it meant,” Heiden said. “I wanted to skate well in all the distances and I felt I satisfied that dream. I was also relieved that my career was behind me and it was time to move on to other things. It was an exciting time in Lake Placid. It was a stressful time. And it was a time that I will never forget and something that I really cherish.”

Heiden, who went on to a cycling career, became an orthopedic surgeon and team doctor working with speedskaters.

“Most of my patients have very little insight into what I used to do as an athlete,” Heiden said. “And it’s not unusual for a patient of mine to come back at a second or third visit when I see them and they will say, ‘You are Eric Heiden the speedskater,’ and I’ll say, That’s correct, how did you know?’ ‘I told my friends who I was going to see for my ailment, they said, do you know who that is.’ Most of my patients have no clue that I had a career as an athlete, and I kind of like that; that means they come to me for what I am known for today which is to be a doctor and hopefully one of the best doctors that they can come visit.”

Leah Poulos-Mueller, 500- and 1,000-meter Long Track Speedskating Silver Medals

In her third Olympic Winter Games, Poulos-Mueller followed her silver in the 1,000 at Innsbruck 1976 with two more runner-up finishes.

Poulos had retired after marrying fellow Olympian Peter Mueller, a gold medalist in 1976. But she came out of retirement for Lake Placid. On Feb. 15, she placed second behind Karin Enke of East Germany in the 500.

Two days later, she was paired with Natalya Petruseva of the Soviet Union. While Poulos-Mueller had the early lead, Petruseva pulled away for the win with an Olympic record of 1:24.10 to Poulos-Mueller’s 1:25.41.

Poulos-Mueller later became a lawyer focused on civil litigation and protecting constitutional rights.

Beth Heiden, 3,000-meter Long Track Speedskating Bronze Medal

Like her older brother, Heiden had speed and endurance and raced every distance. She won the world allround speed skating championships in 1979, becoming only the second American woman to earn the honor and the first in 43 years.

However, Heiden went into Lake Placid, her second Olympic Games, nursing an ankle injury that had been bothering her. She placed seventh in the 1,500 on Feb. 14, seventh in the 500 on Feb. 15 and fifth in the 1,000 on Feb. 17.

The final women’s race was the 3,000 on Feb. 20. The 20-year-old won the bronze with a time of 4:33.77. She was the only female athlete to place in the top seven in all four distances.

Later that year, Heiden was the first American woman to win a gold medal at the road cycling world championships in the road race. She was also an NCAA champion in 1983 in cross-country skiing a year after taking up the sport.

Her daughter, Joanne Reid, competed for Team USA in biathlon at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

Charlie Tickner, Men’s Figure Skating Bronze Medal

Tickner won the gold medal at the 1978 world championships, but two other world champions, Jan Hoffmann of East Germany and Vladimir Kovalev of the Soviet Union were also in the field, as well as European champ Robin Cousins of Great Britain.

Hoffman took the lead after the compulsory figures, with Tickner second and Cousins fourth and Kovalev dropping out after placing fifth.

Cousins won the short program, earning one perfect 6.0, while Tickner placed only fifth.

That meant he went into the long program on Feb. 21 in third place.

“There is room for Charlie Tickner,” said Dick Button.

However, Tickner, 26, stepped out of his triple salchow and wound up third behind Cousins, who won the free skate, and Hoffman. U.S. teammates David Santee and Scott Hamilton were fourth and fifth, respectively. Hamilton went on to gold four years later in Sarajevo.

Tickner followed his Olympic performance with the bronze medal at worlds and the four-time national champion became a coach.

Phil Mahre, Alpine Skiing Slalom Silver Medal

Mahre had a bad fall in March 1979, breaking the tibia in his left leg and the joint where it joins the ankle. “It was a very serious injury,” he told The Seattle Times in 2018. “Most doctors didn’t give me a chance of ever being competitive again.” He was skiing with a two- or three-inch metal plate and several screws in his left ankle.

On Feb. 22, he was the first skier out of the gate on the first run and posted the fastest time. But Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden overtook him with a blistering second run. Mahre finished half a second behind, 1:44.26 to 1:44.76.

In 1984, he won the gold medal in slalom with his twin brother Steve taking the silver. To top it off, Mahre’s wife gave birth to his second child and first son the same day.

The Mahre brothers went on to race cars, founded a ski-training center and started a home-construction company.

Linda Fratianne, Women’s Figure Skating Silver Medal

The 19-year-old Californian had a fierce rival in Anett Poetzsch of East Germany. Fratianne won the 1977 world title, lost to Poetzsch for silver in 1978 and regained the crown in 1979. 

Poetzsch pulled substantially ahead in the compulsory figures in Lake Placid, with Fratianne third. Fratianne couldn’t make up the gap despite winning the short program within the scoring system that was established at the time, with point totals rather than placements carrying over.

In the free skate, Fratianne won first place votes from two of the nine judges – Japan and the United States – while Poetzsch took the rest in the closest women’s competition since 1920.

She had four scores of 5.9.

“Just a fine first-rate performance all the way around,” said Dick Button, who noted that the “pressure was so extraordinary” on Fratianne.