In keeping with long-standing Podium Cafe quadrennial tradition, it's time to pay tribute to Cycling's greatest midwinter Olympic crossover heroes...
[Aside: yo, I'm not an encyclopedia; if there have been other pros who accomplished something in a winter discipline too, I'm all ears. Mags, Petey, this sounds like one for you!]
Eric Heiden, you all pretty much know, stole the 1980 Winter Olympics, or at least the first week before the hockey team upended the geopolitical order, with five speedskating gold medals, an all gold (colored) skinsuit, and 27-inch thighs -- all firsts.
His kid sister Beth also garnered a lot of attention during the 1980 speedskating events, though after a slew of world championships in 1979, her only medal in 1980 was a bronze in the sport's only monotonous event, the 3000 meters.
The Heidens were north country kids from Wisconsin, so when they got into cycling, it was mostly for the purpose of crosstraining during the three months each year when Wisconsin's lakes aren't frozen. And, since the roads are about as flat as a speedskating course, Cycling served their speedskating rather well.
More surprisingly, speedskating made them into cyclists too. Before she became an Olympian, Beth accomplished something I wouldn't personally care about for another four years -- she won the Cycling World Road Championship in 1980 -- the second (and thus far last) American woman ever to do so. Even during the US Women's heyday that emerged after the 1984 Olympics, stars like Inga Thompson, Janelle Parks, Connie Carpenter and Rebecca Twigg couldn't duplicate Beth's success, thanks to the Armstrong-like arrival of Jeannie Longo.
By 1985, older brother Eric was also no longer just dabbling in cycling, he let Jim Ochowicz talk him into becoming a full-time member of the intrepid 7-Eleven squad of trailblazers. His win in 1985's inaugural USPro road race was frankly a fluke, given his own team had Olympians Grewal, Hampsten, Kiefel and Phinney around. But casual fans knew Heiden better, and he instantly became a domestic cycling hero -- possibly better-known than Greg LeMond at that point.
A year later, Heiden's spot in the suddenly-emerging hierarchy of US Cycling became clearer, when he worked as a domestique for the 7-Elevens in their historic entry into the 1986 Tour. Heiden crashed out of stage 18, so close to Paris, and left his only TdF in an ambulance. Pretty soon after, he was in med school and retired from the sport.
The success of the Heidens -- speedskaters by pedigree -- is kind of a fluke. A seemingly much better predictor of cycling ability would be cross-country skiing. And yet, I can't name anyone who's made that transition in any splashy way. This takes us to the obvious conclusion of this article: there is no reason to watch the Winter Olympics.
[Just kidding! Sheesh, we're already set up to TiVo the men's downhill.]