Skoblikova completes sparkling Olympic debut
Soviet speed skater Lidiya Skoblikova had very good reason to remember her maiden Winter Games at Squaw Valley. Aged just 20, she posted a world record in winning the 1,500m and an Olympic record in landing 3,000m gold. She would follow that double up in emphatic style four years later in Innsbruck 1964, claiming four more golds to cement her place as the most successful Olympic speed skater of all time.
A student and later a school teacher from Chelyabinsk in the Urals, Skoblikova burst on to the domestic scene at the age of 17, setting national 1,500m and 3,000m records. Drafted into the USSR team, she starred at the ISU World Championships in 1959 and 1960, winning the 500m and 3,000m and collecting all-round bronzes on both occasions.
Though the wind was blowing at over 21km/h in Squaw Valley for the 1,500m, Skoblikova’s first event, , ideal temperatures and superb ice conditions made up for the gusts. Setting off in the seventh pair, Poland’s Elwira Seroczyska proved the point by coming within a mere two tenths of a second the world record of 2:25.5, which had been set by Soviet skater Khalida Shegoleyeva back in 1953.
Skoblikova went out two pairs later with another Pole, Helena Pilejczyk. Though there was little to choose between the two in the first half of their race, the Soviet skater picked up the pace thereafter, pulling away to shave 0.3 seconds off Shegoleyeva’s long-standing record. Pilejczyk followed Skoblikova in to win bronze, with Seroczy taking the silver.
Two days later, after coming home fourth in the 1,000m behind her team-mate Klara Guseva-Nesterova, Skoblikova went for gold in the 3,000m, an event in which she was the reigning world champion. Taking to the ice in the tenth and final pair, she set her sights on the fastest time of 5:16.9 posted by her compatriot Valentina Stenina. Skoblikova posted the fastest splits on every lap, eventually crossing the line over two seconds clear of Stenina to set a new Games record of 5:14.3. Only fellow Soviet skater Rimma Zhukova had ever skated faster, going half a second quicker in setting the world record in 1952.
That twin triumph was only the start of Skoblikova’s stellar career, one in which she improved at every distance. A year after winning world all-round silver in 1962, she won all four distances on the programme at the 1963 World Championships in Kariusawa (JAP), setting a new 1,000m world record of 1:31.8 in the process. She produced another clean sweep at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, pocketing gold in the 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and 3,000m to become the first Winter Olympian to win four individual titles at the same Games.
Another world record came Skoblikova’s way in 1967, as she stopped the clock at 5:05.9 in a 3,000m race in Oslo (NOR). After finishing sixth in the same event at her third Winter Games at Grenoble 1968, she went back to college and became a professor of physiology. In 1983, she was awarded the Silver Olympic Order by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and on 7 February 2014 she was one of eight Russian sporting personalities to be given the honour of bearing the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony of the XXII Winter Games in Sochi.