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Athletic Excellence – Olympic Gold

by Ed Booth (Associate Editor) |

You’re already well aware that smokejumpers possess the physical abilities and stamina that few people can match.

However, while no smokejumper of whom we’re aware has been an Olympic athlete, three of them have had children who have not only competed at the Olympic level – but have excelled.

Eric Heiden and his sister, Beth, are children of Jack Heiden (CJ-54). Both were speed skaters at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., with Eric setting records with his haul of gold medals and Beth claiming a bronze.

Tommy Moe, son of Thomas Moe (MSO-63), became the first American male skier to collect two medals at the same Olympics in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway.

And in a sport that’s more obscure, but no less demanding, Launi Meili, daughter of Hal Meili (CJ-52), brought home a gold medal from the rifle competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Here’s a summary of each athlete’s accomplishments:

Eric Heiden

Won all the men's speed skating races and set four Olympic records and one world record at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

Is the only athlete in the history of speed skating to have won all five events in a single Olympics and the only one to have won a gold medal in all events. He is considered by some to be the best overall speedskater (short and long distances) in the sport's history.

Won three World Allround Championships and four World Sprint Championships. Three times he broke the world record in the 1,000 metres, twice in the 3,000 metres, and once each in the 1,500 metres and 10,000 metres. He also broke the points world record in both allround and the sprinting distances.

Was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.

Became a professional racing cyclist after his speed skating career, and

Was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1999.

Served as team physician for the NBA's Sacramento Kings and the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA, as well as team physician for the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team.

Beth Heiden

Set a national record for 14-year-olds in the mile run in 1974.

Won the World Allround Speed Skating Championships in 1979, the second female American to win the title.

Won a bronze medal in the 3,000-meter skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

Won the U.S. Road Cycle Racing Championship, and in 1980, the world road championship.

Is a member of the Speed Skating Hall of Fame.

Was the NCAA National Championship in cross country skiing at the University of Vermont in 1983 and an All-American in the same sport, as a walk-on in her first year of the sport. In that same year she became national champion in one of the skiing distance events.

Placed in the top ten in two races at the age of 50 in the 2010 U.S. Cross Country Skiing Nationals.

Tommy Moe

Joined the U.S. Ski Team in 1986 at age 16.

Made his international debut at age 18 at the 1989 World Championships in Vail, Colo., where he placed 12th in the downhill competition.

Became the first American male skier to win two medals in a single Olympics, winning gold in the downhill and silver in the super-G at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.

Had his best World Cup season in 1994, during which he finished third in the Super-G, eighth in the downhill, and eighth in the overall standings.

Was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2003.

Launi Meili

Won the gold medal in the 50-meter small-bore rifle, three positions, at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. She was seventh in the same event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Finished sixth in the 10-meter air rifle event in Seoul and 11th in Barcelona.

Coached the all-woman University of Nebraska rifle team to the co-ed NCAA National Championship.

Became rifle coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2008.