But Heiden had been transformed by the time he arrived for his second crack at the Olympics, when he became the first person to win five gold medals in the same games.
He won all five speed skating events from 5,000m through to the 10,000m and set an Olympic record in every one.
In the 10,000m final he broke the world record by 6.2 seconds and in the 1,500m he recovered from a near slip to win by 0.037 seconds.
The American turned to cycling following his success and won the 1985 U.S. Professional Cycling Championship before competing at the Tour de France a year later, though he did not complete the sport's premier race.
So near, so far
When it comes to snatching defeat from victory, Lindsey Jacobellis' 2006 Turin nightmare is likely to haunt her forever.
The U.S. star, who was 20 at the time, looked set to win gold in snowboard cross' Olympic debut after racing into a huge lead with the finish line in sight.
But with victory seeming inevitable, the American appeared to showboat on the penultimate jump by grabbing her board.
The result was catastrophic. She fell to the ground and watched on in horror as Switzerland's Tanja Frieden sped past to win gold and leave Jacobellis in second.
"I was caught up in the moment. I think every now and then you might see something like that," Jacobellis told media following the event.
"I didn't even think twice. I was having fun and that's what snowboarding is. I was ahead. I wanted to share with the crowd my enthusiasm. I messed up. It happens."
Tortoise beats the hare
There was one problem facing Steven Bradbury at the 2002 games at Salt Lake City -- he couldn't skate as fast as his rivals.
The Australian knew he wouldn't be able to keep up with the rest of the field and so he had a choice -- go at full pace and risk embarrassment or hang back and wait for the rest of the field to crash.
The plan worked beautifully.
With the finish line of the 1,000m in sight, his four rivals managed to collide with each other and allow Bradbury to stroll over the line to win Australia's first ever Winter Olympics gold medal.
Not bad for a man who earlier in his career was sidelined for 18 months after a skater's blade sliced through his thigh -- leaving him needing 111 stitches.
In 2000, Bradbury had also been told he'd never skate again after breaking his neck when crashing into a barrier during training.
But his Utah triumph was reward for 12 years of hard work and determination -- and a tale which will never be forgotten.
Back from the brink
Dan Jansen was a man who refused to give up.
At the 1988 Calgary games, the U.S. speed skater turned up as favorite to win gold in both the 500m and 1,000m events.
The world sprint champion was in fine form, but on the day he was set to compete, tragedy struck.
Jansen's sister, Jane Beres, died from leukemia.
Heartbroken, he took to the ice just hours afterward but fell after only 10 seconds of the race and was eliminated -- the same happened three days later in the 1,000m.