As we formally commence the Olympics, and before we've handed out any medals, I think it prudent to give a reminder that as the Olympic ideal goes, it is not winning or losing, but the participation that counts. You show up, and no matter what, you go out and do your damnedest.
I don't think this is best exemplified by telling you about someone who won. It's easy to compete when you're winning. It's harder to do when you're losing.
Speed skating being indoors is a relatively recent development. The first indoor speed-skating rink in the Olympics was the Olympic Oval in Calgary 1988; even in Albertville 1992, it was done outdoors. As you can see here, along with Roland Brunner of Austria wiping out a couple times.
In St. Moritz 1948, the main stadium was used as the venue. The record will show that Ake Seyffarth of Sweden won gold, Lassi Parkkinen of Finland won silver, and Pentti Lammio of Finland won bronze in the men's 10,000 meters. The record will also show the slowest time ever recorded on an Olympic oval in that event: 26 minutes, 22.4 seconds, recorded by 19th-place Richard Solem of the United States. 18th place, by comparison, was 21:34.8, set by Art Seaman of the United States.
To further compare, gold medalist Seyffarth recorded a time of 17:26.3. The last finisher in Vancouver in the men's 10,000 meters was Sebastian Druskiewicz of Poland, who clocked in at 13:49.31. The current world record is 12:41.69, set by Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, who needed less than half the time Solem did.
So what happened? The sun happened. Being an outdoor venue, the skating oval was at the mercy of the weather, and the weather had decided to warm things up. Five pairs of skaters, which included most of the contenders, were able to get off acceptable runs.
There were 14 pairs in the race. And St. Moritz's altitude was a factor as well, leaving many of the skaters short of breath.
The record shows seven DNF's and a disqualification, as skaters from the latter part
of the draw tried to make it through the increasingly-puddly oval before
running out of steam- and oxygen- and eventually calling it quits. The last pair featured Solem against Lee Hyo-Chang of South Korea. By this point, Hyo-Chang had seen quite enough madness for one day and didn't even start the race, leaving Solem to skate by himself. Unlike his predecessors, though, Solem fought through the entire distance, and the fans, seeing someone manage to give them their money's worth for once, cheered him almost as much as they cheered the medal contenders.
Solem had zero chance of a medal even if he skated the race of his life, because the ice just simply would not allow the kind of speed required and he knew it. But he went and did it anyway.
Let the Games begin.