The Soviet team, formidable in its over-all Olympic strength, is awesome when it comes to speed skating. At the last Games the U.S.S.R. took seven of the first 12 places. Many of the 1956 team, still the fastest collection of skaters ever assembled, will be racing at Squaw Valley, reinforced by a crop of younger champions. This combination should give Soviet Russia most of the gold medals and quite a few of the silver and bronze ones.
Best of the Russian veterans is Evgeny Grishin (right), who whipped to victory in the 500 and 1,500 meters at Cortina, setting world records in both. Grishin showed at the world championships at Davos last weekend that he is still at the top of his form. He won the 500 in 40.5. As for his upcoming appearance at Squaw Valley, Grishin has decreed, "I am not going to leave there without setting a world record."
Besides Grishin the Russians also have 25-year-old Gennady Voronin (see cover), a specialist in both the 500 and 1,500 meters, and Boris Stenin, world 1,500-meter champion. At the longer distances, Valery Kotov, the newest Russian star, just won the 5,000-meter at Davos in the impressive time of 8:06.1, so he is a good bet in the 5,000. However he could lose the latter to teammate Viktor Kosichkin. Then there is Vladimir Shilykovsky, who has already bettered the world's record of 16:32.6 by winning an all-Soviet 10,000 in 16:13.1 at Alma Ata only two weeks ago. The only opposition in this distance is teammate Nikolai Shtelbaums, Jan Pesman of The Netherlands and possibly Norway's Knut Johannesen.
These are not all the speed skating medals Russia will win. For the first time in any Winter Olympics, there will be women's races. And the Russians, who were largely responsible for introducing the innovation, will probably sweep the gold medals in the four women's events—500, 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000. Valentina Stenina wife of Boris Stenin), the remarkable Tamara Rylova (left), Lydia Skoblikova and Klara Guseva will be almost impossible to beat.
The U.S. skaters, with perhaps two or three exceptions, are not up to Olympic standards. Most of them are accustomed to the North American style of racing, a sort of roller derby on ice, in which everyone skates in a tight pack, jostling and elbowing at the turns as he tries to get an inside position. In international style, obligatory at the Olympics, competitors go off in pairs, each skater in his own lane, switching lanes only at a specified intersection.
A handful of American racers has been working hard over the past four years to master the international technique, and has shown some remarkable results. Bill Disney, a 27-year-old rug cleaner from Alhambra, Calif., has already bettered the world record (40.2) with 40.1 for 500 meters in a recent practice run at Squaw Valley. Terry McDermott of Essexville, Mich. has shown that he may be capable of 40 seconds flat, although the Russians could force the 500-meter time down to 39 seconds. Don McDermott (no relation to Terry) has also been swift in 500-meter practice sessions and he could be one of the surprises.
In the races above 500 meters, the U.S. has no male skaters with any real chance; and the ladies have no medal candidates at any distance. The most realistic prediction for the American skating squad is a possible silver or bronze in the men's 500.