The home fans who came to watch the speed skating wanted a Norwegian athlete to cheer, and they found one in Johann Olav Koss.
Koss had first come to the world’s attention in 1990, when he won the all-round championship in Austria and established himself as a world-class speed skater. His big breakthrough, though, came in 1992, when he made his Olympic debut and won a gold medal in the 1,500m and silver in the 10,000m. That was more than enough to mark him out as the man to beat in Lillehammer where he was entered into three events – the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m. Few thought there was anybody who could beat him in any of the three, but Koss was not quite so confident. He had been struggling with an injury in the run-up to the Games, and performed relatively poorly at the European Championships, also held in Lillehammer, and then at the World Cup race just before the Games. Suddenly the runaway favourite looked fallible.
His first race was the 5,000m. Skating in the fourth pair, Koss rediscovered his finest form and delivered a series of fast laps to break the world record and ultimately win the gold medal.
Next up was the 1,500m. Koss was likely to face a strong challenge from the Netherlands’ Rintje Ritsma, the world record holder, and it was Koss who went first. He produced a stunningly quick final lap to lower that world best by 0.31 seconds, and then waited to see what Ritsma could achieve. The Dutchman was ahead for the first 1,000m, but then waned in the closing stages as he paid the price for his early exertions and finished 0.7 seconds behind Koss.
Finally, the 10,000m gave him a third gold medal, and a third world record, with a quite remarkable display that lowered his own world best time by nearly 13 seconds. His efforts were so impressive that he was even given an award by the Dutch Olympic team.Koss retired after the Games and went on to become a prominent charity worker and gain qualifications in both medicine and business.