High-speed hall of fame

LAKE PLACID – When visitors descend on Mount Van Hoevenberg for the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Cup races Friday through Sunday, they’ll be surrounded by Olympians, past and present, including the ghosts of those who made this one of North America’s most cherished Olympic sites.

Artifacts and displays fill the second floor of the James Lamy Lodge at the Olympic Sports Complex, operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. They help tell the story of this historic venue, which was home to bobsledding and skeleton during the 1932 Olympic Winter Games; bobsled and luge at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games; bobsled, luge and skeleton at the only Winter Goodwill Games in 2000; and numerous national and international competitions since the facility opened on Christmas Day in 1930. It was home to the first full-length bobsled run in the U.S., and history continues to be made here.

The luge track – built in 1978 for the 1980 games – was demolished in order to construct the combined track, which opened in 2000. The original 1932 bobsled run was upgraded for the 1980 games, and a portion of it is now used for tourist rides in the summer. The 1932/1980 track is an artifact unto itself, according to Lake Placid Olympic Museum Director Alison Haas, who oversees the artifacts at Mount Van Hoevenberg’s International Sliding Sports Museum.

“I recommend walking that portion of the old track,” she said. “You can take it all the way to the summit and see the construction of the 1932 track with the stone work. It’s incredible that it’s still there for people to see.”

This tiny museum is filled with sliding sports artifacts and displays and is lined with full-length windows so visitors can see the action on the modern track. A TV monitor shows athletes competing at various points along the course, from start to finish. Speakers, both inside and outside, pipe in audio of the track announcer. In a corner of the room, above the mantle of the fireplace, a TV monitor shows a video about Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy, including the story of the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game during the 1980 Olympics. More displays and exhibits are planned for the future.

Lining the walls are photos and biographies of more than a dozen people who made Mount Van Hoevenberg the historic site it is today.

“These people are legends of Mount Van Hoevenberg,” Haas said.

One such person was former bobsled run director Alice Beckel, who led a crew to open the facility in the 1970s after the state of New York was forced to close it due to financial troubles. The Essex County Committee for Economic Development operated the venue from winter of 1972-73 to the winter of 1978-79. This was a crucial time for Lake Placid, as the bobsled run needed to be operational for the 1980 games’ bidding process. If it weren’t for Beckel and locals like Jim Brooks, who were passionate about the bobsled run, Lake Placid may not have hosted the 1980 Olympics.

“She and her crew got together and were able to host the FIBT World Bobsled Championships in 1973 and 1978,” Haas said.

Then there were bobsledders such as Jim Bickford, who competed in the Olympics in 1936, 1948, 1952 and 1956. He carried the American flag in the opening ceremonies of two of those games.

“He was actually a forest ranger by trade, but he won his first title in 1934 and brought victory to the U.S. in the first major AAU national two-man competition,” Haas said.

The walls of the Lamy Lodge are lined with stories of many hometown heroes from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake and Keene Valley.

“Ivan Brown and Alan Washbond of Keene Valley were America’s only gold medalists at the 1936 Olympic Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany,” Haas said about the bobsledders.

Haas was standing next to a four-man bobsled from the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy when she explained that it was piloted by Arthur Tyler to win a bronze medal during those games. William Dodge, Charles “Tom” Butler and James Lamy were in Tyler’s crew.

“This was the 1959 World Championship gold medal sled,” Haas added. The crew consisted of Tyler, Gary Sheffield, Parker Voorhis and Butler.

That was the last time a U.S. bobsled team earned a gold medal until 2009, when Steven Holcomb piloted a four-man sled to win gold at the World Championships on Lake Placid’s combined track.

Holcomb is the latest bobsledder to be placed on the Mount Van Hoevenberg wall of distinction. He helped end a 62-year Olympic gold medal drought in bobsledding by winning the 2010 four-man title at the Vancouver Olympics. He also piloted a two-man sled to earn a gold medal during the 2012 FIBT World Cup in Lake Placid.

Holcomb isn’t slowing down. On Nov. 29 and 30, he drove two-man and four-man bobsleds to gold-medal victories in the World Cup in Calgary, Alberta. He followed that with another pair of gold medals this past weekend in Park City, Utah. He’ll try to continue that hot streak this weekend in Lake Placid.

Haas said her favorite local athlete is a bobsledder, pointing to a photo of Katherine Dewey, daughter of 1932 Olympic Winter Games President Godfrey Dewey – son of Melvil Dewey, who founded both Dewey Decimal System and the Lake Placid Club. Haas spent three years cataloging the elder Dewey’s archives and learned about his daughter’s achievements at Mount Van Hoevenberg during her research.

“She was a pioneer of women’s bobsledding,” Haas said. “When everyone else was sledding as a man back in the 1930s and 1940s, there was Katherine Dewey sliding along with them. She won a national bobsled championship in 1940, and she was considered one of the top pilots of her era.”