Originally created 02/08/02

Five-time medalist Heiden turns thumbs down on torch duty



SALT LAKE CITY -- Former Olympian Eric Heiden, winner of five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Games, refused to settle for second place in this year's games as well.

Heiden said he was approached about participating in Friday night's opening ceremony, but he held out for the top spot - the last person to carry the flame and ignite the Olympic cauldron.

"They asked if I'd be one of the last guys carrying the torch, and I told them I wanted to be the last guy," Heiden said Thursday on Sporting News Radio. "They said they couldn't do that, and I said, 'Well, then, I have other things to do.'

"So I kind of turned them down."

Heiden, who retired from speedskating one month after his stunning Lake Placid performance, said he was disappointed he didn't receive the honor.

"Yeah," he said. "I thought I was a pretty good candidate."

Instead, Heiden will focus on his job as team doctor for the U.S. speedskaters. Heiden, 43, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, remains the only five-time gold medalist in individual events at a single Olympics.

Utah Jazz All-Star Karl Malone had earlier expressed similar sentiments, saying he would have carried the torch into Rice-Eccles Stadium but that he had no interest in lugging the torch "across the desert somewhere for a 10th of a mile."

Salt Lake Olympic officials subsequently announced that Malone was never considered for a part in the opening ceremony.