Heiden Challenge puts skaters to the test
February 22, 2019


LAKE PLACID - No speed skater is more celebrated for their achievements in the sport than 1980 five-time Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden, and he was further honored in Lake Placid with a speed skating meet this weekend.

The inaugural Heiden Challenge, the last race of the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club racing series was hosted Feb. 16-17 on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval where Heiden triumphed nearly 40 years ago. The event included nearly 20 competitors from the United States and Canada.

While Saturday, Feb. 16 brought snow and wind during the morning's races, the sun came out for the afternoon, and lasted through the morning races the next day. There was perfect skating weather for the Sunday morning races, with sun, no wind and fast ice that helped several skaters achieve personal best times.

The race was designed to commemorate Heiden's achievements by including all the distances he skated in an allround format, meaning all skaters needed to compete in every distance to continue on and potentially qualify for the final round of distances. Saturday morning included the 500-meter race for everyone, the 3,000-meter race for women, and the 5,000 meter race for men.

On Saturday afternoon, all skaters competed in the 1,000- and 1,500-meter distances.

The top four women and top four men after these four distances qualified for the final distance, which was a 5,000-meter race for the women and 10,000-meter race for the men. The winners were determined using the samalog scoring system, which converts results of various distances into points in order to determine the top three spots in the women's and men's categories.

Replicas of the 1980 Olympic medals were awarded, and the winners also received a commemorative Heiden Challenge gold medalist's jacket.

In a sport where skaters now specialize in sprint or long distances, the opportunity to test their perseverance and versatility in a race environment was unique and exciting.

"I know that Eric (Heiden) would have been especially pleased to see young skaters like yourselves skating all distances, since there is such specialization now," said head referee and starter Mike Miller at the awards ceremony.

Miller, who also coaches with the Adirondack Speedskating Club, is a former elite speed skater who trained with Heiden.

"You pushed yourselves to skate well in all distances which is what made Eric a legendary skater," Miller said. "You should be very proud to have medaled in this meet."

Heiden was supportive of the event, encouraging the skaters to "skate fast and have fun" on his Facebook page while also indicating interest in seeing how the race times will compare to those skated during the 1980 Games.

Canadian skaters Claire Mallard, Claire Liew and Kiera Bayne were the overall first-, second- and third-place medalists, respectively.

Liew, originally from Ontario, skates in Lake Placid, attends Lake Placid High School and trains with Miller of the Adirondack Speedskating Club.

"I had a really great time this weekend," she said. "Overall, I was happy with how I skated, but I was especially happy with my 1000m, which was a season's best."

Liew also achieved her personal goal of completing the 5,000-meter distance in under 10 minutes.

Mallard has been to Lake Placid many times training with the Ottawa Pacers and Gloucester Concordes and working with coach Mike Rivet and her dad Bob Mallard.

"I was happy with my skate this weekend but I feel like I have more room to improve. I carelessly fell in the final 5k because I lost focus and I had to work really hard to make that up," she said. "I love skating in Lake Placid, especially on days like Sunday when there's no wind and the sun is out. The atmosphere is also so positive and everyone is super friendly and supportive. It feels great to skate there and I look forward to going back."

She was also thrilled to be the Heiden Challenge Women's Champion.

"The competition was different than any other meet, I skated more races on the first day than I did ever before. I'm super excited to be the first winner, especially because of the amazing legacy of Eric Heiden."

Bayne was especially pleased with her 5,000-meter race.

"The competition was very successful (for me) and it was interesting to have a new schedule than previous Lake Placid competitions," she said. "This was my first ever 5,000 and although it was extremely tiring, I was so happy to say that I had successfully completed a 5,000!"

The men's medalists were Canadian skaters Gabriel Martin (bronze), Emil Hodzic-Santor (silver) and US skater Tommy Fitzgerald (gold).

"I really enjoyed the competition this weekend; it was the first time I had to race four distances in one day and that was physically demanding, however, I am happy with my performances, especially my 500m (although I would have liked a faster time!)" said Martin, who trains in Ottawa. "I look forward to seeing more long track skaters join us next year to bring more competition to the event. Thank you to the volunteers who made a success of this event."

Fitzgerald mostly skates short track in Danbury, Connecticut, but also trained with the Academy for Speedskating Excellence in Milwaukee to improve his long track skills, work which paid off at the Heiden Challenge. Fitzgerald skated strong, earning three personal records and season's best times in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000. His 10,000-meter race against Emil Hodzic-Santor was especially exciting, with less than a second separating their times, helping him become the Inaugural Heiden Challenge men's champion.

"Lake Placid is my favorite, I absolutely love it here; it's always so beautiful and I love the Olympic vibe the town has," Fitzgerald said. "The Heiden Challenge was challenging. I'm not used to racing four distances in one day and before this weekend I had never even raced a 10k but it was so much fun and very competitive."

The racing series is now concluded, but the Oval is expected to be open for speed and public skating for a few more weeks. More information about the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club, including results, can be found at


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