Lake Placid relights Olympic flame
LAKE PLACID – It was a cold Friday night, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the Olympic spirit on display as onlookers, torch runners and fans gathered for the lighting of the 1980 Winter Olympic cauldron.
The event was designed to celebrate this year’s Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and to remember Lake Placid’s past. The torch was lit at 6 p.m. at the North Elba Show Grounds.
The torch runners carried the flame from the platform at the show grounds to Mid’s Park on Main Street. Billy Whitney, 51, of Lake Placid, was the last runner to carry the torch before a handoff to Jim Shea Sr., who lit another cauldron at the park.
“I think this event is incredibly symbolic,” Whitney said.
Shea, 76, was born and raised in Lake Placid and was a 1964 Olympian in nordic combined. He was also the cross-country skiing assistant chief of events during the 1980 Olympics. He said the most amazing moment he remembers from that time was the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game.
“I was standing in Section 13 right in the middle of the arena when the Americans beat the Russians,” Shea said.
He had some criticism of the way he sees the Olympics developing over the years.
“They are getting too commercialized, too big; there’s so much money involved,” Shea said. “Now I’m an old-timer, and I like it the way it used to be.”
Shea’s son, Jim Shea Jr., won a gold medal in skeleton at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and his father, the late Jack Shea, won two gold medals in speedskating at the 1932 Olympics right here in his hometown in Lake Placid.
Village Mayor Craig Randall extended a wish of good luck to the mayor of Sochi.
“I have offered him my best wishes for a successful event,” Randall said. “He’s got to be very proud.”
Randall said Lake Placid has held on to that special Olympic spirit, something many other host cities haven’t done.
“When I travel in the world, in the presence of people in Olympic cities, they say, ‘I don’t know how you do it.'” Randall said.
Randall said during the time of Lake Placid’s 1980 Olympics, everyone thought people would only remember the ski jump towers.
“What people ended up remembering is the Miracle,” Randall said. “I think it’s interesting that in our case it was a life-changing event.”
He added that Sochi is also trying to capture the fame of the Olympics, positioning itself to become a world-class resort after the games’ end.
Beverly Johnson, Sandee Norris and Suzy Mink, three of the original torch carriers at the 1980 Olympics, were at the event Friday. The women were ambassadors from their respective states: Johnson from Maine, Norris from Indiana and Mink from Virginia. They came back to carry the torch again. Norris flew over from London, England.
“We’ve been to the 10-year reunion, and two of us ran with the Salt Lake City torch.” Norris said. “Lake Placid is a really special place. We absolutely want to be a part of a place where we made such great memories.”
Veronica Byers, 36, of Lake Placid, is a local triathlete. She was invited to carry the torch and jumped at the chance.
“‘Are you kidding me?’ I said. ‘Of course.'” Byers said.
Byers has ran Tupper Lake’s Tinman Triathlon twice and the Ironman once, and she plans to run it again this summer.
“I’ve been joking I might drop the torch or accidentally set something on fire,” she said.
Byers said she was proud of the local athletes who made it to the Olympics.
“I think there might be something in the water,” she said. “There are so many athletes excelling in the Olympics. It really speaks to the athletic culture of the Adirondacks.”
In all, nine locals will compete in the Olympics: Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Annelies Cook, Bill Demong, Peter Frenette, Jamie Geubel, Chris Mazdzer, Jayson Terdiman and Andrew Weibrecht. Fans in the crowded area surrounding the cauldron held signs for their favorite locals, wishing them the best of luck.