Eric Heiden speed skates into Olympic history

On this day in 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden wins the 10,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, setting a world record with his time and winning an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the games.

Heiden had been training as a speed skater since the age of 14. At the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, Heiden, then 17, came in seventh in the 1500-meter race and 19th in the 5000 meters. He then won the world speed skating championships in 1977, 1978 and 1979 and became a hero in the Netherlands and Norway, where the sport is popular, while remaining less well-known at home in the United States.

Heiden instantly became famous in his homeland, however, after his remarkable performance at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. On February 15, Heiden won his first gold medal, in the 500 meters. Over the next nine days, this victory was followed by four more first-place finishes, in the 1000 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters. On February, 23 the 21-year-old skating phenom broke a world record in the 10,000 meters, with a time of 14:28:13. Amazingly, the night before his fifth victory, Heiden stayed up late cheering on the U.S. men’s ice hockey team as they defeated the Soviet Union in a massive upset. He overslept the next day and rushed to the rink for his race after eating just a few slices of bread for breakfast.

Before Heiden, no other athlete in Olympic history had ever won five individual gold medals. American swimmer Mark Spitz took home seven golds in 1972, but three of them were for team relay events. At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps won four individual gold medals, two relay team golds and one individual bronze and one team bronze.

After retiring from speed skating, Heiden, who largely shunned the spotlight and endorsement deals, became a professional bike racer and an orthopedic surgeon.


Spanish rebels storm Parliament

In Spain, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and 200 members of the civil guard burst into the Cortes, Spain’s legislature building, in Madrid, firing shots into the air as they take the democratic government of Spain hostage. The right-wing conspirators, resentful of the rapid more

Children receive first polio vaccine

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious more

U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis more

South Vietnamese advance stalls

In Operation Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese advance into Laos grinds to a halt. The operation began on February 8. It included a limited incursion by South Vietnamese forces into Laos to disrupt the communist supply and infiltration network in Laos along Route 9 adjacent to more

Desertion up in South Vietnamese army

According to the U.S. military headquarters in Saigon, 90,000 South Vietnamese deserted in 1965. This number was almost 14 percent of total South Vietnamese army strength and was twice the number of those that deserted in 1964. By contrast, the best estimates showed that fewer more

Lincoln avoids assassination attempt

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage show up unexpectedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., foiling a Baltimore plot against his life. The president-elect left his home in Springfield, Illinois, by train several days earlier and had planned to stop in more

W.E.B. DuBois is born

On this day in 1868, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois is born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A brilliant scholar, DuBois was an influential proponent of civil rights. DuBois’ childhood was happy, but during adolescence he became aware of a “vast veil” separating him more

Earthquake strikes Mediterranean

On this day in 1887, an earthquake off the Mediterranean coast of southern France and northern Italy destroys villages and kills more than 2,000 people. At the time, the area was, as usual, playing host to visiting tourists from all over Europe celebrating Mardi Gras, including more

First council meeting of SEATO

In the first council meeting of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declares the United States is committed to defending the region from communist aggression. The meeting, and American participation in SEATO, set the stage for the U.S. more

Lincoln arrives in Washington

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C.,amid secrecy and tight security. With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln’s election, the threat of civil war hung in the air. Allen Pinkerton, head of a private more

Formula One champ kidnapped

On this day in 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels. Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was more

Marines raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi

On this day, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point. Later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag, an event which an Associated Press more