Since it is only a short time until the winter Olympic games starts, I thought I’d post something about them, plus a cycling connection.
I saw this article over at the NBC Olympic website doing a list of the greatest US winter Olympic athletes of all time. The list is completely out of order. They have Eric Heiden listed as the 9th “greatest” US winter Olympian. That is so wrong.
Here’s how the guys at NBC define greatness – How do you define greatness? There is the quantitative approach, which in sports means adding up personal statistics, victories and, in the case of the Olympics, medals. That is the first criteria used to build this list. But to define success only by the accretion of Olympic hardware would omit athletes whose impacts can not be easily quantified because they compete in sports, such as figure skating, with fewer events or in which the effective career of an athlete is far shorter. Cultural impact matters too; Dorothy Hamill, for instance, won only one gold medal but inspired a generation of girls to try to follow in her footsteps. So the second criteria for this list is the imprint the athlete left on history in other, less tangible ways. Using those two criteria, these are our choice for the 19 greatest U.S. Winter Olympians.
Eric Heiden did something in 1980 that will never be repeated in all of sport. He won every event in his sport in the Olympic Games. 5 events and 5 gold medals. It was equivalent in running of winning the 100 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, mile, and 10 K. Or in cycling, winning the sprints, kilo, pursuit, time trial and road race. I’ll state it again, it will never be repeated. It was phenomenal.
Of the 8 athletes ahead of Eric, nearly all are skaters. Mainly figure skaters. But, just adding insult, there are 3 speed skaters, that NBC has deemed greater winter athletes than Eric. I’d bet you a million dollars if you polled all Olympic speed skaters and asked them who the greatest speed skater of all time was, it would be unanimous – Eric Heiden. That says a lot.
In NBC’s greatness definition, it doesn’t say anything about what the athlete went out and accomplished after the Olympics. Eric retired from speed skating after the Olympics and immediately took up cycling. He went on to win the Professional National Road Championships and ride the Tour de France. He then went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. Kind of an over achiever, huh?
There is an online poll where you can vote. I think Bonnie Blair is leading Eric in this. If you want to go vote, click here.
It is so weird that guys are already road racing throughout the world, Australia, Argentina, etc. and the cyclocross worlds are still a couple weeks away. All the while, we’ll be able to enjoy watching the Winter Olympics. Sports – 24/7.