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Heartbreak turns to joy for 10,000m champion Seyffarth

It is the nature of the Olympic Games that emotions can swing wildly. We often see one athlete elated at the end of a race, while another one looks despondent. But sometimes the sporting stars have to become accustomed to facing the extremes of both joy and disappointment within the space of just a few days.

Such was the fate of one of the great sportsmen of the time, Swedish speed skater and former cyclist Åke Seyffarth, who entered four different individual events in St Moritz.

Seyffarth had broken two world records during the Second World War, at 3000m and 5000m. During that period, he also won a series of national skating titles and three national cycling championships.

But the ice was his focus. When speed skating competitions resumed after the end of the war, he won the first event to be held – the European championships, in front of his home supporters in Stockholm. He followed that up with a bronze at the world championships to ensure he arrived at the 1948 Games in good form.

The first event was the 500m. It did not produce a medal, but it was never one of Seyffarth's favourites. As preparation for the longer distances to come, it was helpful, though.

But heartbreak was to come the following day in the 5000m, in which he still held the world record. Seyffarth was on course for a medal when he brushed against a photographer in the closing stages and was knocked off his stride. He lost valuable seconds in regaining his stride and ended up only seventh.

There was, however, no time to dwell on his disappointment. The next day brought the 1500m and, finally, a first medal as Seyffarth took silver. That left just one more challenge – the toughest in speed skating: the 10,000m.

It was Seyffarth's fourth race in four days, and yet he didn't seem tired. The problem for the organisers, though, was more obvious – the warm weather was having a serious impact on the track. The leading racers all went in the early pairs, while the ice was still in reasonable condition, while later athletes struggled.

There was also the problem of the thin air leaving some athletes struggling to breathe, including the 5000m champion Reidar Liaklev and the bronze medallist Göthe Hedlund, who both dropped out.

Seyffarth had been one of the first to skate. He opened up a lead on Finland's Pertti Lammio and slowly extended his advantage. Seyffarth kept a steady pace until the final two laps, when he put on a finishing burst to cross the line in 17mins 26.3secs. Now he had to wait to see if anyone could match that.

A pattern emerged. Other skaters would be ahead of his time in their early laps, but then found themselves struggling to keep up in the closing stages. Lassi Parkinen, the world champion, was three seconds up on Seyffarth at one point in his run, but ended up finishing eight seconds slower. His time, though, was good enough for silver, with Seyffarth earning his gold in his fourth and final race.

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