On Sept. 12, J.R. Celski crashed in a 500-meter race at the national short-track championships in Marquette, Mich., his right skate slicing open his left thigh to the femur, blood pooling on the ice. On Monday morning, Celski, 19, went through two hours of range-of-motion exercises at a clinic in south of Salt Lake City, continuing his recovery toward possibly competing at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February. The orthopedic surgeon monitoring his rehabilitation is Eric Heiden. “He’s a five-time gold medalist in the Olympics,” Celski said. “Who would you want taking care of you more than a former speedskater? He knows what he’s doing. He’s making sure I stay positive. Just the idea that he’s my doctor — his opinion matters more than an ordinary doctor.”
In February, 30 years will have passed since Heiden won gold medals in all five speedskating events at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. He whirred around an outdoor track at the high school along Main Street there, wearing skates two sizes too small, hoping the lighter weight would increase his speed, powering himself with thighs so massive he needed size 38 pants even though his waist measured only 32 inches. uring his skating days, Heiden once said that he would rather win something utilitarian, like a warm-up suit, than a gold medal, and that he might sell the medals if he ever needed the money. For years the medals remained scattered at his home and his parents’ home in Madison, Wis. Now all five sit on a bookshelf at his house outside Park City, Utah, where Heiden is chairman of surgery at a recently opened medical center.Just how much the medals mean to him became evident at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He declined a chance to participate in the opening ceremony, believing he embodied the Olympic ideal and should have been chosen to light the Olympic caldron. The celebrated 1980 hockey team was chosen instead. “I was probably just too stubborn,” Heiden said of shunning the ceremony. “I figured if they don’t appreciate what I did as a skater, if they don’t appreciate now what I am doing as a human being, I’d just as soon hang out with my buddies and watch it. “I did not mean to slight the Olympic hockey team in any way. I grew up with a lot of those guys in Wisconsin.” Though he has not worn speedskates in 10 years, Heiden gets out on a pond in hockey skates with his children. He helps to coach soccer. Once a week he goes for a run “trying to keep up with my 15-year-old dog.” He lifts weights in the garage and still rides his bike. His knees hurt, and so does his back, but he is only 15 pounds above his playing weight of 185. His children are old enough to know about his accomplishments, Heiden said, but “they’re not old enough to appreciate that everybody’s dad does not have Olympic gold medals.” He will travel to Vancouver in February as team doctor for the United States speedskating team. And he hopes that Celski, the short tracker, will be ready to compete in the 1,000 meters, the 1,500 meters and the relay.