Winter Olympics are nostalgic for Mahomet Resident Henriksen


Erik Henriksen doesn’t have to wonder what it feels like to be inside the Olympic village in the days leading up to competition.

He understands the importance of navigating the hoopla surrounding The Games in order to maintain focus.

Though the Mahomet resident now has a view in front of a television set, he experienced it first-hand throughout the 1980s.

Henriksen was a member of the United State Olympic Speedskating delegations in 1980 (at Lake Placid, N.Y.), 1984 (at Sarajevo) and in 1988 (at Calgary). He learned how the demands on an athlete’s time can seem never-ending.

“You have press (obligations) to deal with, family members who want to see the inside of the village,” Henriksen recalled. “You want to get that over early, or after your events.”

This year’s seven-member U.S. men’s speedskating squad departed for Pyeongchang, South Korea, more than a week in advance of the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremony. The trend is not new.

“We wanted to be on the ice, familiarize ourselves with things,” Henriksen said. “That’s the other side of the world. You want to get the (15-hour) time change straightened out.”

At the Olympic site, the workouts are designed to keep the competitors active and moving rather than to continue training.

“When you get there, your volume is cut,” Henriksen said. “You go out and hit race speeds like you do the week before any major (meet).

“If you’re a sprinter, you’ve done long laps. You’re peaking and you can hold a peak three to six weeks.”

Many fans marvel at the pageantry of the Opening Ceremony. It’s not mandatory that all the athletes attend, but Henriksen made it to all three.

“I regret Calgary,” he said. “It was bitterly cold, and that got into us.”

He believes the length of the event is the problem with the spectacle. This year’s show is scheduled to last about two hours.

“I think it’s out of hand,” Henriksen said. “It should be short and sweet, like Placid. You’re on your feet and it takes too long. Nothing is worse than an unrested sprinter. You lose your explosive pop.

“They should seriously consider cleaning it up. You don’t need the superstars. Do that at the closing when everybody has done their deal.”

Henriksen, who operates Henriksen Painting, graduated from Champaign Central High School in 1975, from Parkland College in 1978, from Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1982 in pre-law and from the University of Illinois with a master’s degree in journalism in 1998 at age 40.

He equates Olympic participation to basketball games where no two are exactly alike.

“At Placid, I was an alternant, but I was ready for my two races,” Henriksen said. “At Sarajevo, my skates cracked, I missed all five of my turns, but still got 11th (in the 1,000 meters). At Sarajevo, the food was abhorrent. Everything was canned and ‘mystery meat.’ The IOC ate better at the Holiday Inn than the athletes. At Calgary, there was so much team in-fighting, but the food was incredible.

“My joy is in the skating itself. My stuff never happened the right way at The Games.”

When word got out about some of the friction in 1988, Henriksen received a surprise gift from a Champaign-Urbana connection.

“REO Speedwagon wasn’t my sponsor anymore, but they sent an acoustic guitar to Canada that Kevin Cronin had used on five of the hits,” Henriksen said. “That’s a cherished possession.”

Sightseeing wasn’t a priority for Henriksen. He preferred to relax and stay in his quarters.

“No one makes you do anything,” he said. “You direct what you’re going to do. We played a lot of pinball in Lake Placid and Sarajevo. When you were allowed on the ice, that’s what you built your schedule around.”

Henriksen’s career wasn’t defined by the Olympic results. In a decade-long career, he had 10 podium finishes internationally in the 1,000 and three in the 500.

“The World Championships are the same skaters, but the public focus is not there,” Henriksen said. “It can be a bigger deal buzz-wise. You’ll have 35,000 people watching in Holland or Norway.”

He measured success beyond the number of first-place finishes.

“I liked to go fast and do better every time,” Henriksen said.

As he grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Henriksen was a regular at the UI Ice Rink.

“We were at the rink almost every night of the week after school,” he said. “If parents had a tired kid, that was a kid that was not getting in trouble.”

The C-U area nurtured multiple Olympians in speedskating, starting with the late Roger Capan.

“I had great examples, Henriksen said. “Roger Capan was a mentor, and we had good coaching here.

“It didn’t hurt that Bonnie Blair moved here (from New York) and her brothers and sisters were all at a high national level.”

Henriksen’s parents moved to Mahomet in 1988. He followed full-time in 2006.

When the coverage of the 2018 Games from Pyeongchang begin, Henriksen will tune in for more than the sport in which he excelled.

“I’ll watch alpine skiing, bobsled, the later rounds of hockey,” he said. “When my sister is here, she likes figure skating, ski jumping, slalom and downhill.”

He fears that he can predict one outcome even before the cameras start rolling.

“I’ll be disappointed in the coverage of my event,” Henriksen said. “If there are two or three Americans (competing) in a race, figure out how to show the Americans.”

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