Norway and the Netherlands dominated Speed Skating in the 1970s, but the most significant innovator in the sport during that era came from Switzerland. Franz Krienbühl (SUI) was the first to enter the Speed Skating rink in a one-piece skin suit in 1974. Although the other skaters initially made fun of the odd Swiss veteran in his red skinny outfit, they quickly switched to the 'Krienbühl' suit when they saw that he managed to gain tenths of seconds every lap with the new invention. At the 1976 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck almost everyone skated in the aerodynamic one-piece skin suit.
Speed Skater in 1968©AFP
Krienbühl was an anomaly in Speed Skating. The Swiss architect was 38 years old when he made his international debut at the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble. In total he won 14 Swiss national titles and his best international result was eighth in the 10,000m at the Innsbruck Olympic Games. He was 46-years old at the time, and continued to race internationally well into the 1980s.
Valery Mouratov (RUS) Daniel Immerfall (USA) at the Olympic Winter Games 1976©AFP
Although Krienbühl never won major international titles, he was constantly looking for improvement in all aspects of the sport. Before he introduced the one-piece skin suit, Krienbühl had also invented an adjustable blade. Until the late 1960s the blades were fixed to the shoes, but Krienbühl developed a system with which he could adjust the angle of the blade under the shoe. He also was the first to use video analysis to improve his skating technique. All of Krienbühl's inventions were received with a lot of scepticism, only to be copied soon afterwards.
Skates in 1968©AFP
The one-piece skin suit proved to be Krienbühl's most important contribution to the development of Speed Skating. Thanks to the improved aerodynamics, the world records dropped significantly in the second half of the 1970s. The skin suit record drop was similar to the major record boosts after the introduction of indoor Speed Skating rinks in the 1980s, and the clap skate in the late 1990s.
Marrit Leenstra (NED) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)