Beekeeper Liaklev stings hardest in 5,000m speed skating
Reidar Liaklev had been one of Norway’s best young skaters before the war. He had taken a bronze medal at the Norwegian junior championships in 1939, but didn't get to compete internationally for another eight years.
By then, he was 30 years old and keen to see if his youthful promise could still flourish when pitched against world-class opposition. The answer came in 1947, when Liaklev won took part in the world allround championship, finishing third in the 5000m, winning the 10,000m and placing fourth overall. He now had the confidence he needed to compete against the best long-distance speed skaters in the world.
Liaklev was no wild man athlete. He was a postmaster in his home town of Jaren and also a well-known beekeeper, but he showed his more dynamic side at the Olympic Winter Games.
The conditions for the 5000m were not easy. The wind was changing direction almost constantly, and there were bouts of both snow and bright sunshine, while the standard of competition was high, with athletes from Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands all appearing in good form.
The first really fast time came from a Swede, Göthe Hedlund, who crossed the line in 8mins 34.8secs. But then came an intriguing pairing – Norway's Odd Lundberg (who had beaten Liaklev in the national championship) along with Sweden's Harry Jansson. Jansson led most of the way before Lundberg passed him to finish two seconds quicker than Hedlund.
Åke Seyffarth might well have beaten that time, but his run was ruined by a brush with a photographer and it fell to Liaklev to challenge his countryman. He skated at a fast, steady pace, with no sign of fatigue, and crossed the finishing line in 8mins 29.4secs, the only man to beat the 8min 30secs barrier.
Liaklev took the gold. He looked on course for another medal in the 10,000m but retired two-thirds of the way through his race after struggling to breathe in the thin air. He carried on competing for a couple more seasons before retiring to his quiet life, having proved his fantastic natural ability.