LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval in Lake Placid produced greatness once again last week during the FISU World University Games as skaters from around the world rewrote the record books on the same track that Eric Heiden won five Olympic gold medals during the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The record-setting trend started right away, with Minsun Kim of Korea and Kazuya Yamada of Japan setting new track records in the first two races of the six-day competition on Sunday, Jan. 15. Records then fell on each subsequent day as previous record-holders and American Olympic legends like Heiden and Bonnie Blair were left behind.
When all was said and done, at least 10 new track records had been set at the FISU Games on the recently upgraded track that was renovated with environmental sustainability in mind. The staff at the Oval was able to utilize its new infrastructure and advanced technology to provide a durable, consistent and fast surface even as the weather changed from rain to sun to snow throughout the week.
Heiden permanently etched his place in Olympic history in 1980 by winning an unprecedented five individual gold medals on the Oval in Lake Placid. He is widely considered to be one of the best overall speed skaters in the sport’s history, with the rare ability to excel at both long and short distances. Heiden became a professional cyclist after his speed skating career ended and then became an orthopedic surgeon, serving as the team doctor for the US Speed Skating Team in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Heiden’s gold medal-winning time of 7:02.29 in the 5,000-meter race at the 1980 Games set a benchmark that was untouched for many years to come on the Lake Placid oval. That changed on Monday, Jan. 16, though, when Italian skater Riccardo Lorello crossed the line in 6:53.22 to take FISU University Games gold.
Another track record set at the 1980 Olympics fell earlier in the day on Monday in the 3,000-meter race when Laura Anne Hall of Canada eclipsed Bjorg Eva Jensen’s longstanding mark of 4:32.13 with a time of 4:25.7.
Bonnie Blair competed in four different Olympic Games during her storied speed skating career, collecting five gold medals and one bronze. She’s held the 500-meter record on the Lake Placid Oval since 1987, but was overtaken Thursday by Minsun Kim, who covered the distance in 38.53. Kim finished with three gold medals at the FISU Games in Lake Placid.
Other new track records were set in the men’s and women’s races at 500 meters, 1,500 meters, team pursuit, and mass starts. Japanese skater Wataru Morishige, a bronze medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, won the 500 in 35.30.
Japan racked up the most FISU Games speed skating medals during the week on the Oval, winning five gold, six silver, and three bronze. Korea was second in the medal count at four gold, three silver, and two bronze. Canada’s two medals in the Mass Start moved them into third in the medals count with two gold and four bronze.
The Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games was an 11-day competition and educational festival that featured 1,443 collegiate athletes, ages 17-25 from 595 universities across 43 countries. The competition consisted of 12 winter sports and 85 medal events contested in northern New York communities, including Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Wilmington, North Creek, Canton and Potsdam. The Games concluded Sunday, Jan. 22 with the Closing Ceremonies on the 1980 Rink at the Olympic Center.
Team Japan finished first in the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games’ overall medal count with 48 medals (21 gold, 17 silver and 10 bronze). Japanese men won 12 gold medals, seven silver and six bronze, while the women combined to claim seven gold, eight silver and three bronze. The mixed teams came away with two gold, two silver and one bronze medal.
Republic of Korea finished second overall with 29 medals (12 gold, 8 silver and 9 bronze), while France claimed 18 medals (5 gold, 6 silver and 7 bronze) and was third.
The U.S. squad, which did not medal in 2019, enjoyed its best-ever FISU Games with 17 medals. The three gold, eight silver and six bronze medals, allowed the U.S. squad to finish fourth overall, tied with Poland, and surpass its previous best of 15 medals won, set in 1993.