Johann Olav Koss, born October 29 1968 in Drammen, won three gold medals at 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer with world records in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m. This achievement brought speed skating to the interest of people all over the world. Sports Illustrated magazine named him “Sportsman of the Year”. His world records lasted until the introduction of the “clap skate”, which boosted speed skating results to new records.
On February 20th, 1994, Johann Olav Koss had the highlight of a great speed skating career. He won the 10,000-m race in the Winter Olympics at Hamar, Norway. He beat his own world record set in Heerenveen with almost 13 seconds to 13 minutes and 30.55 seconds. This was already his third world record in eight days. He improved the world best time for the 5000 m to 6 min 34.96 sec and the 1500 m to 1 min 51.29 sec.
The 10,000 m was without doubt the most impressive world record of the three. “I had hoped to beat the world record, but never dreamed I would do it by so much. It took quite a while afterwards to understand fully what I had achieved.” He said about his race. His openings laps “actually scared me a bit. (…) I did not conscientiously use extra power at the outset. I was just gliding. It was fantastic.” The 12000 supporters in the sold out arena including Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon Magnus, helped him to reach that extraordinary level. “It’s only once in a lifetime that you experience such an atmosphere, such good ice and, at the same time, be in such good form,” said Koss.
Besides the gold medals with world records in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, he also won 1,500m gold and 10,000m silver in 1992 Games in Albertville. Other major achievements included three overall world championship titles–in 1990, 1991, and 1994. Koss could not be recognized as such future sports hero in his younger years. In 1987 he became a national junior champion speedskating, but he could not compete with the top skaters in the 1986 and 1987 World Junior Championships. At his debute with the seniors at the World Championships in Medeo 1988, he failed to qualify for the final distance. In 1989 he finished 15th in the European Championship, but he finished 8th in the World Tournament that same year. In 1990 he broke through at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, which he won. He would remain at the top of world by winning the World Championship again in 1991 and 1994 and finishing 2nd in 1993 and 3rd in 1992. He won the European Championships in 1991 and finished 3rd in the next three editions.
After his career, he not only became chairman of Olympic Aid, but he also became a UNICEF ambassador and a member of the International Olympic Committee (until 2002). He married Canadian businessperson and politician Belinda Stronach on December 31, 1999, but they divorced in 2004.
In May 2009 Johann Olav Koss married Jennifer Lee, who describes herself as a Juilliard-trained cellist and graduate of the universities of Harvard and Oxford and Harvard Business School. She’s the co-founder of www.brika.com. They have two children together: Aksel and Annabelle.