Speedskating - Olympic statistics

Some 500 m stats:


World record:
Jeremy Wotherspoon, Salt Lake City, Nov 9, 2007
9,59 - 34,03

Lowland record:
Jeremy Wotherspoon, Hamar, Jan 26, 2008
9,59 - 34,31

Olympic record:
Casey FitzRandolph, Salt Lake City, Feb 11, 2002
9,44 - 34,42

Rink Record:
Kang-Seok Lee, Mar 15, 2009
9,42 - 34,80

Season best:
Kyou-Hyuk Lee, Salt Lake City, Dec 11
9,58 - 34,26

Lowland season best:
Kang-Seok Lee, Berlin, Nov 6
9,61 - 34,80


Best nation:
USA with 7 wins. Russia/Soviet Union has 5, Germany (east and west) has 4, Norway 3 and Finland and Japan 1 each. The US victories are 1924, 1932, 1952, 1964, 1980, 2002, and 2006.

Best individual skater:
Jevgenij Grisjin, Erhard Keller and Uwe-Jens Mey all won the distance twice. Grisjin, who won in 1956 and ’60, also has a silver from 1964 and a fourth place in 1968, making him the best male sprinter in Olympic history.

Biggest win:
Ken Henry of the USA in Oslo 1952 made 43.2, 7/10 ahead of his fellow American Don McDermott.

Narrowest win:
Our tough Finnish friend Clas Thunberg in 1928 had to share the gold with another toughie, Norwegian Bernt, “Bæla” Evensen in 43.4, 2/10 ahead of three others, who shared the bronze. As far as the tenths go, Hiroyasu Shimizu and Casey FitzRandolph were equal in Salt Lake City 2002 as well, but they had three hundredths over two races to separate them. Shimizu, the dominant 500 m skater of his time, had experienced severe setbacks due to back problems in the early season 2001/02, even briefly visiting the B group in the World Cup races. But he slowly edged his way towards the favourite position, and was set to defend his Olympic title when the Games began. A 34.61 in the 15th pair might have looked good enough, but with a very, very good start, the home favourite gained the advantage. In the second run, the pairs were the same, only the lanes were changed, and with another race of the same calibre, the tiny speed monster made up some of the difference, but not all.

Most surprising win:
Doubtless that of Ivar Ballangrud, who went to Garmisch in 1936 to collect 3 golds, it was believed. And he made it, but not in the 3 longest distances for which he was the favourite, because on the 1500 m, the distance where he had just equalled the legendary 22 year old Oscar Mathisen record 2.17.4 in Davos, his clubmate (from Drammen SK), Charles Mathiesen, stole the gold from him. At the 500 m, he was just barely selected. People like Staksrud and Hugo Nygren had beaten him in races at home. Teammates Georg Krog, Harry Haraldsen and the former world record holder Hans Engnestangen were the specialists here, and all were gold medal hopes, along with some dangerous Americans and a Japanese.

But the races in 1936 were held on a lake, the Riesersee, and the lake ice was brittle and difficult to handle for all these full blooded sprinters, who added 1/2, 1 or 2 seconds to their expected times. Krog did well to skate 43.5 in the first pair and held the lead ahead of American Freisinger when Ballangrud came in the sixth. He had a phenomenally fast start, maybe even TOO fast, he admits in his memoirs, and skated well the rest of his race. The three timekeepers agreed: 43.4. But many witnesses with their own watches had 44.4. What had happened? Was Krog cheated of a gold medal? But any discussion was pointless, the result was official. In late pairs, Harry Haraldsen and the sprinting king Engnestangen himself both fell, and Ivar had won one of the few 500 m victories in his career.

It’s hard to believe that 3 timekeepers and all the other officials connected with timekeeping could register a time that was 1 whole second wrong, and stories about ‘independant watches’ deviating from the official ones were common in those days. But the Germans respected supermen, and this was the great Ballangrud. They knew that the leading time was 43.5, saw the tenths hand stopping at 4 and expected Superman Ballangrud to win. Maybe one of them shouted “43.4” and the others agreed, not checking the seconds hand carefully enough. Stopwatches had separate seconds and tenths hands in those days, not digital numbers displays. Maybe the timekeepers just shouted “four over” to the time referee, who didn’t bother to check the seconds, this being the great Ballangrud and all.

Georg Krog in an account published around 1960 tells us that Finn Amundsen, the Norwegian Olympic radio reporter, in 1947 told him that he had proof of the correct time being 44.4. Amundsen was a fresh, young, ambitious reporter in 1936 and when the time he had read into the recording machine after Ballangrud’s race was edited out by his bosses before transmission because it was 1 second wrong, he was decidedly unhappy. He always commented with a clock and timed all races himself, never being more than 2 tenths off the official time. Thus, according to Krog, Amundsen told him that he had taken the record containing his commentary and timed the interval between the start and finish signals again to 44.4 with a reliable stopwatch.

It could have been downright cheating maybe, possible someone had made a bet for Ballangrud winning all four distances and bribed the timekeepers or for some other reason wanted him to win. Probably not, but we will never know. The results lists still and always will say Ivar Ballangrud, gold, 43.4.

Happy 500 m to everyone!