Aurora-resident Anne Henning-Palmer earned two speed skating medals and set a record in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan when she was only 16.
AURORA, Colo. — Attaining athletic perfection as a teenager is almost unimaginable.
“As a 16-year-old girl, I reflect back at how young I was,” Anne Henning-Palmer said.
50 years later to the day on February 10, Anne Henning-Palmer (nee Henning), recalls the moment she put the speed skating world on notice.
“I woke up and nerves was an understatement, let’s just say. But on race day, it was do or die. This is it, let’s show the world what you’ve got,” she said. “The stadium was full, everybody was looking at me, and I was the only one on the rink who was absolutely expected to win. I was the world-record holder in the event.”
She held the short track world record for 500 meters with a time of 42.9, yet she never let those nerves get the best of her in Sapporo in 1972.
“If I lost, oh well, that’s not so bad, I’m still an Olympian,” she said. “But that’s not what happened.”
She was paired with Canadian skater Sylvia Burka in the 500 meter finals. Henning-Palmer recalled the details of the sub-minute race.
“I was in the outer lane and she was in the inner lane. In speed skating, you cross over on the back stretch to equalize the distance of the two athletes. I was so fast. As the gun goes off, I was tearing down the first 100 meters and around the corner. From the outside lane, I was already 20 meters ahead of her, if you had a straight shot. I came around the outside corner and right at the beginning of the cross-over, we were right together. In international skating, the rules are that if you’re in the inner lane crossing into the outer lane, you’re supposed to give right-of-way to the outer lane. She did not do that. In less than a split second, we were right together. I stood up, put on the breaks, went behind her, and continued skating in the inner lane. I was thinking and reflecting back, ‘how did I think to do that and stand up and save the race?’ but I did! I continued skating and finished the race. That was a fabulous time and would’ve been the gold medal time, but in the rules of international skating, I was awarded a second race for the first time ever in Olympic competition. I got to skate over because I was impeded.”
She set a new Olympic record with her time of 43.7 seconds, but Henning-Palmer knew she could do better — even if she would have to race alone.
“It’s going to be me against the clock all the way,” she said. “I’m going to show the world exactly how fast I am.”
43.33 seconds, to be exact: a new Olympic record for the 500 meter short track. And of course, a gold medal in the 1972 Winter Olympics.
“You bend over and you get this gold medal placed around your neck and I remember my grin was so huge because my parents were in the stands and everybody was cheering, and it’s just a sense of relief,” she said. “It’s just the most amazing feeling of ‘I did it!'”