I don’t know if it’s snowing or not where you are, but it is winter. And though winter usually spells comfy coffee/tea/mulled wine/[insert favorite beverage here] by the fireplace for many people, it also offers cool opportunities for sports (pun intended).
And like in all sports, there are degrees of proficiency between practitioners from the enthusiastic (or not-so-enthusiastic) amateur to the highly-trained professional.
I mean if winter originated sports weren’t respectable, complex and cool to watch, they wouldn’t have invented the Winter Olympics, right?
So, in honor of both winter and the amazing men and women who took winter sports to their greatest heights (so far), here’s 5 outstanding Winter Olympians.
1. Sonja Henie (Norwegian)
Considered by many to still be the best figure-skater ever seen, despite her career reaching its height in the thirties.
She is legendary for having won more World titles (10 times between 1927 – 1936) and Olympic titles (’28, ’32, ’36) than anyone else.
And for winning the European Championship six times (1931 – 1936).
And for becoming a major Hollywood actress after ending her skating career (ex.: “One In A Million”). And, unfortunately, for personal connections to Hitler and the Nazi party.
Talk about a complex character and an over-achiever.
2. Katarina Witt (German)
She is a two time Winter Olympic Gold medalist (’84, ’88). She won the World Championship four times (’84, ’85, ’87, ’88) and came in second place (silver) at the same World Championship two times (’82, ’86).
Like Sonja Henie, she also has an interesting story not related to the skating ring: she posed nude for Playboy in 1998, declaring that she didn’t really like the “cute, pretty, ice princess image” generally associated with female figure skaters.
It apparently had an impact, considering that the Playboy issue in question is the second one to have ever sold-out, after that featuring Marilyn Monroe (the inaugural one).
On top of that, like Sonja Henie, she also won the European Championship six times consecutively (1983 – 1988).
3. Jim Craig (USA)
Going from figure skating to skating after the puck, in hockey, I have to mention the legendary Jim Craig who is the protagonist of the US – USSR semi-final astounding US victory in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olypmics, nicknamed “The Miracle On Ice”.
As the goaltender, Jim Craig had a tough job ahead of him when faced with the USSR team which was favored by most and considered set to win. But he outperformed even the most wild hopes of fans, by managing to save 36 shots!
The USA won 4-3 and then took the gold medal by defeating Finland in the finals.
4. Eric Heiden (USA)
Where to begin? The man holds a record that is not likely to be broken soon. As a speed skater, he not only won five gold medals, he did this in the same event, at the 1980 Winter Olympics where Jim Craig also worked his miracle.
These five gold medals are the only time when a speed skater won all of the speed skating categories (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m). Notice how the distance tends to vary “slightly”, and by that sarcastic expression I mean that it makes a huge difference to be a 500 or 1000m sprinter or a long-run 10,000m specialist.
Heiden didn’t seem to care much about specialization and won everything for good measure. On top of that, he didn’t just win by being faster than his competitors. He won by being faster than anyone ever before, setting 4 Olympic records and 1 World Record with the occasion of his 5 gold medals win.
And, to make it truly legendary and astonishing, the only ones who had more gold medals than the 5 he won then, were the combined members of the East Germany and Soviet Union teams, with 9 and 10 gold medals respectively.
5. Tara Kristen Lipinsky (USA)
Age and experience can be a powerful aide when competing for the gold medal. Most professional athletes gradually reach their peak, learning from failures or less-satisfying silver or bronze medals along the way.
The case of Tara Lipinsky, an American figure skater, seems to be the exception that confirms the rule. And boy is she the exception.
Because she holds two-records for youngest ever athlete to win figure skating gold.
The first is for being the youngest to win the World Championship, in 1997, at the very young age of 14 years, 9 months and 10 days. The closest competitor for this record was 32 days older.
The second time for being the youngest to win the Winter Olympics gold medal for ladies’ figure skating, in 1998, in Nagano, Japan. She was 15 years, 8 months, and 10 days at the time.
The sad end of this amazing story however is that she never won any other gold medal after that. Perhaps, like a bright meteor, she concentrated all her power into making an impact at that time, then slowly burned out.