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Speed Skating-Training, skaters. IOC
Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956

‘Greyhound of the ice’ Grishin sprints to glory

Born on 23 March 1931 in the city of Tula, 200km south of Moscow, Yevgeny Romanovich Grishin first rose to prominence as an excellent track cyclist. An equally talented skier and skater, he decided to fully focus on speed skating from the age of 14 onwards, within the famous CSKA Moscow sport club, specialising in short distances such as the 500m, at which he began to excel at national and international level. In parallel, he undertook an engraving apprenticeship and became a goldsmith.

During the 1954 ISU World All-Round Speed Skating Championships in Sapporo (JPN), he won the 500m to take bronze overall. In January 1955, on the Medeo track in Almaty (KAZ), he set new world records in the 1,500m (2:09.80) and in the 1,000m (1:22.80). The record for the latter distance had previously been held by Finnish legend Clas Thunberg for 25 years. Grishin’s new 1,000m benchmark would stand for a further 12 years.

On 22 January 1956, six days before the start of the Winter Games, Grishin took part in a warm-up race on Lake Misurina, during which he set a new world record of 40.20 in the 500m, improving the previous record held by Yuri Sergeev (URS) by 0.60.

In the 500m in Cortina, on 28 January, Grishin was paired with Johnny Cronshey (GBR). Finishing two seconds ahead of the British skater, he equalled his own world record of 40.20, setting a new Olympic best in the process. That stunning performance was enough to guarantee himself the Olympic title, as fellow Soviet Rafael Grach snatched the silver medal ahead of Alv Gjestvang (NOR).

Two days later, Lake Misurina provided the setting for the much anticipated 1,500m. Paired with Sweden’s Gunnar Ström and departing 11th, Grishin streaked ahead to win in an astounding 2:08.60, smashing his own world record. Astonishingly, that feat would not be sufficient for him to win in his own right, as compatriot Yuri Mikhaylov, who set off in the very next pair, recorded exactly the same time, and would share the gold medal with Grishin. Finland’s Toivo Salonen, who had skated in the very first pair, finished third, almost a second slower.

A month after his Olympic adventures, Grishin, nicknamed the “Greyhound of the Ice”, secured the European all-round title in Helsinki and then landed a bronze medal in the World Championships in Sapporo. Eschewing the longer distances, he was unable to win the all-round title at the Worlds, but consistently dominated the 500m at major gatherings.

At Squaw Valley 1960, Grishin added two gold medals to his Olympic CV, defending his 500m title and sharing first place – for the second time in a row, remarkably – in the 1,500m with Roald Aas (NOR). In January 1963, on the Medeo track just outside Almaty in Kazakhstan, he became the first speed skater to break the 40-second barrier in the 500m, posting sensational times of 39.60 and 39.50, a world record that would stand for five years.

At the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, after fulfilling the role of flag bearer for the Soviet team at the Opening Ceremony, Grishin picked up his fifth Olympic medal by skating the 500m in 40.60, behind the impressive Terry McDermott (USA), who clocked in at 40.10. The Russian, then aged 37, made his last appearance at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, where he missed out on a spot on the 500m podium by a 10th of a second. West Germany’s Erhard Keller (40.30) claimed the title, while McDermott and Norway’s Magne Thomassen (both 40.50) shared the silver medal.

After storing away his skates for good, Grishin worked for CSKA Moscow as a cycling and speed skating coach, taking charge of the teams that competed at Sapporo 1972 and Innsbruck 1976. The recipient of several awards in his homeland, he published a series of books that revisited his productive career and detailed the secrets of his success. He passed away aged 74 on 9 July 2005.

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