Speed skater Maier impresses on Olympic debut
Born on the island of Nøtterøy in south east Norway, Fred Anton Maier divided his time between farming and speed skating. A formidable long-distance specialist, he was 25 when he was named in the national team for Innsbruck 1964 and immediately made his mark on the Olympic stage, winning bronze in a Norwegian clean sweep in 5,000m, with Knut Johannesen setting a new Olympic record in winning gold, and Per Ivar Moe taking the silver.
“It was very special because there were three Norwegians on the podium,” said Maier of his first Olympic medal. “Gold for Norway, silver for Norway and a bronze for me. Being there and seeing my flag go up gave me all the motivation I needed to push on. I said to myself at the time that I had to climb those two extra steps, which is exactly what I did.”
Two days later, Maier landed 10,000m silver behind Sweden’s Jonny Nilsson, the prelude to a remarkable run of form at the highest level. Between 1965 and 1968, Maier broke no fewer than 11 world records over 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m, capping that golden period by winning the world, European and Norwegian all-round titles and claiming Olympic gold.
The 5,000m at Grenoble 1968 proved to be a memorable event, not least for Maier. After seeing Kees Verkerk of the Netherlands set a new world record of 7.23.2 in the third pair, the Norwegian promptly went out and beat it, clipping 0.8 seconds off the time to win his first Olympic gold medal.IOC
Though strongly tipped to a collect a second gold in the 10,000m two days later, he had to be content with silver behind Swedish skater Johnny Höglin.
As well as being a champion speed skater, Maier was also a gifted cyclist and won a number of medals in the national time trial championships. In 1967, his all-round sporting skills earned him the prestigious Egebergs Ærespris, a national award presented to athletes who excel in more than one sport. The following year he pocketed the Oscar Mathisen Award given to the best speed skater in the world, and he was also named Norwegian Sports Personality of the Year.
“The Olympics are a dream and a goal for any young athlete, and they always were for me,” said Maier, reflecting on the magic of the Olympics. “ Taking part in the Games is very special and they only come round once every four years. In my day it was only at the Games that I could only excel at the longer distances and in the sprint, but that’s all changed now. With all the competitions there are and world championships at different distances, skaters face more challenges these days.”
Maier certainly faced up to his challenges, making a name for himself around the world before returning to the peace and tranquillity of his beloved farm. He died on 9 June 2015, at the age of 76.