Lake Placid Still Overflowing With Olympic Spirit
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) _ As Canadians revel in their nation’s first Winter Olympics, residents of this tiny Adirondack Mountain resort village are hoping to accomplish what no other community in the world has done - host the winter games for a third time.
They have their sights set on 2002.
″If they’re going to return to North America, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, it will be after the year 2000,″ said Ned Harkness, head of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which manages the Olympic venues. ″And if they come back, they’ll come back to Lake Placid.″
Like a speeding train, the 1980 Winter Games flashed through this town, capping decades of hoping and years of planning on the part of local residents.
For 13 days, crowds of spectators traveled to the high peaks of New York’s Adirondacks and packed the mountain village. Restaurants and stores along its narrow streets were bustling, and local business people say some of the smaller stores even had to close for an hour or so each day just to restock their shelves.
″The atmosphere was electric,″ said John Jenkinson, who owned a delicatessen across the street from the Olympic Center. ″I didn’t want to work. It was too exciting, I just wanted to play.″
While the Winter Games may have focused the sports spotlight on Lake Placid in 1932, the memories of that snowy spectacle quickly faded and the ensuing decades brought economic depression to the region.
But even after the busloads of organizers, athletes, tourists and the media drove away from the mountain village in 1980, the Olympic facilities - and spirit - remained.
Major international sporting events are held regularly at most of the Olympic facilities and thousands of tourists drive the winding mountain roads to get there each year in all four seasons. They come to see the the 400-meter speed skating oval, where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in 1980, and to stand in the Olympic Ice Arena and imagine those frenzied moments when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union.
Shop windows still display souvenir books, posters, ashtrays and keychains from the 1980 games. Mary Reichhardt, a salesclerk at Ornsby’s Olympic Shirt Shop, said customers purchase a couple thousand commemorative pins and maybe a thousand mugs in an average year.
It cost almost $200 million to stage the 1980 Games, but the investment continues to pay off, ORDA spokesman Don Krone said.
In the heart of town, the Olympic Center is the site for year-round concerts, trade shows and conventions, in addition to winter-related sports.
Lake Placid is well-known as a winter sports training center and the village has been designated as an official training site by the U.S. Olympic Committee. But U.S. teams in boxing, cycling, canoeing and weightlifting also take advantage of the facilities for training.
″Since then (1980) there have been $20 million in capital improvements made on the facilities,″ Krone said. ″They’re in much much better shape now than in 1980, and certainly more diverse.″
Local business officials said sales tax receipts for Essex County in 1987 were expected to top $9 million, compared to $5.4 million in 1980.
Motels operate at near capacity on weekends throughout the year. More than 40 new businesses have sprung up in the area in the last three years. Housing and land values have skyrocketed, while unemployment figures are at record lows.
Without the Olympics ″Lake Placid would probably be a sleepy little Adirondack community,″ said Chamber of Commerce Director Kady Kinsella. ″The Olympics definitely put us on the map in ’32. 1980 put us back on the map.″
Visitors can still hear stories about the 1980 Games from merchants along the town’s main strip. Jenkinson, who together with his wife now owns a Christmas ornament shop, tells how hockey players and speed skaters would often eat at his delicatessen.
″They used to take their socks off in my deli. It always smelled like feet in there.″
Jenkinson said the continuous influx of visitors and athletes today helped Lake Placid over come the post-Olympic blues that hit when the games ended. And there is the ever-present hope of the Olympics yet to come.
″We have a focal point again,″ he said. ″And always in the back of our minds is the push to get the Olympics back again.″
Albertville, France, has already been selected as the site of the 1992 Games. The International Olympic Committee, in a move to conduct the Winter and Summer Games on different years, has announced that the ensuing Winter Games will be staged in 1994 and at four-year intervals thereafter.
Anchorage, Alaska, beat out Lake Placid by one vote to be designated as the U.S. bidder for the 1992 Winter Games, and will keep that designation for 1994. Harkness expects the Olympics to be staged in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe in 1998, leaving 2002 as a viable target for Lake Placid.
But there is already an Olympic movement afoot in Lake Placid. A local organization called the 2000 club was formed to keep the Olympic spirit alive in the community.
″The town wants the Olympics back, not only for the money but for the excitement,″ Jenkinson said.