Lake Placid 1980

Games History

The 1980 Olympic Winter Games, held in Lake Placid, New York, were anything but placid. The Games produced a series of remarkable performances and not even a bus strike could deter crowds from getting to events in the freezing weather. Lake Placid also welcomed the first team from the People’s Republic of China to participate in a Winter Olympics.

The Soviet Union again topped the medal table, winning 10 gold. Pairs skater Irina Rodnina won her third gold medal for the USSR, this time with Alexander Zaitsev. Matching Rodnina’s marvellous hat-trick was East Germany’s Ulrich Wehling, who won the Nordic combined individual event for the third time.

Ingemar Stenmark, the great Swedish alpine skier, rocketed to gold in both the men’s giant slalom and slalom. Hanni Wenzel entered all three women's alpine skiing events and won three medals for tiny Liechtenstein (population: 25,000). In the downhill she earned a silver medal. In the giant slalom she won the gold. Two days later she breezed through the slalom, registering the best time in each of the two runs to win her second gold.

In the biathlon relay, the Soviet Union’s Aleksandr Tikhonov won his fourth straight gold medal, while his teammate Nikolay Zimyatov won three gold medals in cross-country skiing.

The American fans had plenty to cheer about in Lake Placid. In an unprecedented achievement, Eric Heiden of the United States won all five speed skating events, from 500m all the way up to 10,000m. It remains one of the most legendary performances in Winter Olympic history. However, for the home crowd, the stupefying climax of the Games was the unexpected victory of the US ice hockey team. The team was considered no hope against the might Soviet Union team, which had won four consecutive gold medals. The members of the winning US team were to enjoy another unforgettable Olympic moment 22 years later: together, the players lit the Olympic cauldron to open the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.