Heiden, Beth (1959—)

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Heiden, Beth (1959—)

American speed skater. Name variations: Beth Heiden Reid. Born in 1959 in West Allis, Wisconsin; sister of Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden; attended University of Vermont, early 1980s; married.

Set the national record in the mile for high school girls (1975); won the World championship in speed skating in Den Haag, Netherlands (1979); won the World championship in bicycling in Sallanches,

France (1980); won the bronze medal in 3,000-meter speed skating at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York (1980); won the NCAA Cross Country Ski championship in Bozeman, Montana (1983).

Beth Heiden was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, in 1959 and grew up experiencing the harsh Wisconsin winters that are so ideal for skaters. The petite Beth originally pursued figure skating, but was soon attracted to her brother Eric Heiden's sport of choice: speed skating. What she lacked in size Beth made up for in grit, overcoming her physical limitations with concentration, discipline, and determination. "There was many a time when Beth wanted to hit the ice," her brother recalled, "and I'd say, 'Aw, let's forget it today.' But her tenacity would get the better of me—and that's what made the difference between success and failure."

The Heiden siblings began training with Olympic gold-medal speed skater Dianne Holum (winner of the 1500-meter race in 1972). Holum designed a program of bicycling, weightlifting, duck-walking, and many hours of skating for the duo which took its toll on the less-muscular Beth. Neither injury nor setback, however, could defeat Beth's drive, and in 1979 she outskated larger, stronger women to win a World championship.

As the 1980 Olympics approached, Beth and Eric encountered high expectations for their performances. Eric amply fulfilled American dreams of gold medals—winning five of them—while Beth finished a disappointing third in the 3,000-meter race to take the bronze. Whereas her World championship had been won on the basis of her overall performance in four events, medals are awarded separately in the Olympics for each event; although Beth, skating with an injured ankle, had the best overall performance at the Games, she could not capture the gold medal America had been hoping for. Her treatment at the hands of the press added to the disappointment of her loss, as reporters chided her for not keeping up with her brother.

Heiden then moved on to new challenges. Having bicycled extensively as part of her cross-training for speed skating, she took it up as a sport, winning a World championship in bicycle racing in 1980. She began cross-country skiing on a whim while working on a physics degree at the University of Vermont and won the NCAA championship in the 7.5-kilometer event in 1983. Beth Heiden assisted in the development of numerous extensive cross-country facilities in Michigan's upper peninsula.


Connors, Martin, Diane L. Dupuis, and Brad Morgan. The Olympic Factbook. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1992.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland