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The carpenter from Oslo bounced back the very next year to win the world all-round crown in Östersund (SWE). European gold came his way in Gothenburg (SWE) in 1959, and he retained his title in his home town just a month before setting off for Squaw Valley. Unbeaten in the Norwegian championships since 1957, Johannesen had taken to the top of the global Adelskalender ranking, which is based on skaters’ results throughout their career.
Norway’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the VIII Olympic Winter Games, the 26-year-old Johannesen came home 20th in the 500m, an event won by the USSR’s Yevgeny Grishin. Undeterred, he switched his attentions to the 5,000m the following day.
Beaten over the same distance at the same Squaw Valley rink by the Netherlands’ Jan Pesman in an Olympic warm-up race held a few days earlier, Johannesen went out in the ninth pair. By that point his team-mate Torstein Seiersten had set the fastest time of 8:05.3.
Gradually building up a head of steam, the fast-finishing Johannesen crossed the line five seconds clear of his compatriot and then looked on as Pesman tried and failed to beat his mark.
However, Johannesen’s hopes of gold disappeared when the USSR’s Viktor Kosichkin took to the rink. Lapping in 37 to 38 seconds, the Soviet skater finished a whole nine seconds inside the Norwegian, who had to be content with another silver, while Pesman took bronze and Seiersten finished fourth.
After finishing 11th in the 1,500m, Johannesen went for gold in his It started in breathtaking style with Sweden’s Kjell Bäckman slicing over 18 seconds off fellow countryman Hjalmar Andersen’s world record, which had stood for eight years.
Bäckman’s new record would not last long. Finding searing pace from the start of his run, Johannesen was already 10 seconds up on the Swede’s time at the 5,000m mark and he maintained his rhythm to stop the clock in a stunning 15:46.6, smashing Bäckman’s short-lived record by 28 seconds and bettering Andersen’s 1952 time by a full 46 seconds.
The first skater to beat the 16-minute mark in the event, the Norwegian then endured an anxious wait as 5,000m champion Kosichkin set about the task of eclipsing him. Yet though the Soviet skater also made a strong start and was himself on course for gold at one stage, he fell off the pace in the closing laps and came in over two seconds behind to win silver, with Bäckman taking bronze.
After also setting a new 3,000m world record in January 1963 with a time of 7:37.8 in January, Johannesen made his third Winter Games appearance at Innsbruck 1964, taking his Olympic medal collection to five with a long-awaited gold in the 5,000m title and a bronze in the 10,000m.