The Winter Olympic Games returned to Lake Placid, New York for the second time in 1980. The first time the town was chosen as the host of the Winter Games was in 1932, and the U.S. emerged from the competition atop the medal standings with six golds and 12 medals overall.
With the second edition of the Lake Placid Games held at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the competition represented a chance for athletes on both sides to prove who was the best, while under intense media scrutiny and big expectations from fans at home.
The Soviet Union and Soviet-bloc member nation East Germany ranked #1 and #2 respectively in the medal standings with the conclusion of the Games. The Soviet Union’s medal haul was 22 with 10 golds, while East Germany’s athletes took home a total of 23, including nine golds.
However, the U.S. defeat of the heavily-favored Soviet Union in men’s hockey thrilled millions of Americans, and speed skater Eric Heiden’s unprecedented five gold medals made the country very proud.
The following list includes information on the ten athletes that I consider to be the top medalists at the 1980 Lake Placid Games:
Vladimir Alikin: Alikin was a standout biathlete for the Soviet Union. He earned a relay gold and also finished in second place in the 10-kilometer sprint for the event silver.
Anatoly Alyabyev: Alyabyev was another top biathlete for the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, and performed even better than the aforementioned Alikin. Alyabyev captured the 20-kilometer title, and was a member of the victorious 4×7.5 kilometer relay for a pair of golds. He also secured a bronze with third-place finish in the 10-kilometer sprint.
Eric Heiden: Heiden was the individual star of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. He won five gold medals in speed skating, besting the competition at all distances from 500 meters to 10,000 meters. In the process, he exhibited a remarkable combination of speed and endurance. His victories also resulted in four Olympic-record times, and a world-record clocking in his final event-the grueling 10,000 meters.
Leah Poulos: Poulos represented the U.S. well on the speed skating track. She won the silver in both the 500 and 1000-meter races, and combined with teammate Beth Heiden-the bronze medalist at 3000 meters-to give the U.S. an excellent showing overall in women’s speed skating.
Hilkka Riihivuori: Riihivuori was a cross-country skiing star for Finland and achieved Olympic glory at the Lake Placid Games. She earned two podium finishes-both silver-for the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer events.
Ingemar Stenmark: The pride of Sweden, Stenmark ranks as one of the world’s all-time best slalom skiers. In 1980, he won both the Slalom and the Giant Slalom golds. He was also a three-time world champion.
Ulrich Wehling: Wehling reigned supreme in Nordic Combined throughout the 1970s, and the Lake Placid Games in 1980 were no different. In fact, the East German athlete swept the golds at three successive Games from 1972-1980.
Hanni Wenzel: An alpine skiing champion from the principality of Liechtenstein, Wenzel dominated the women’s events in Lake Placid. She earned a pair of golds in the slalom events, and added the silver in the Downhill.
Frank Ullrich: One of the most decorated winter sports athletes of the modern era, Ullrich was very successful at the Lake Placid Games. Competing for East Germany, he won gold in the 10-kilometer sprint. He also earned a pair of silvers: one in the 20-kilometer race, and the other for his part in the 4×7.5 kilometer relay.
Nikolay Zimyatov: Zimyatov helped the Soviet Union to the top of the medal standings with three golds in cross-country skiing. He was victorious in both the 30 and 50-kilometer races, as well as with teammates for the 4×10 kilometer relay.
Patrick Hattman covered the London Games for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He is already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.