Olympic return a long shot, but miracles do happen here
Ever since the 1932 Olympic Winter Games ended, there was hope that Lake Placid would host another Olympics. After decades of sending bid teams abroad, the village finally landed the 1980 Winter Olympics. And after that, like clockwork, more Lake Placid bid teams were compiled.
But the games have outgrown our tiny resort town in the last 34 years. Our 1980 event has been heralded as the last small-town Olympics.
One widely held belief is that Lake Placid could only host another Olympics on a regional basis, perhaps with venues as far away as Albany, Plattsburgh or Montreal. The possibility of making history by sharing the Olympics with Canada is an exciting prospect. It certainly would make logistics – transportation, security, language, currency, etc. – more challenging, but we’ve never shied away from a challenge. That’s what the Olympics are all about.
Another idea is that the Winter Olympics have peaked in sustainable size and will start getting smaller, more compact, geared more for viewers on television and the Internet than in person. This thought seems to gain traction given Sochi’s over-the-top price tag of $51 billion – more than any prior Olympics, winter or summer. If the Winter Games do shrink, the resort towns that gave them birth could say, “Pick me up on your way down.”
Still, they’re unlikely to shrink that much in the next few decades. If we want to do it again before then, we probably can’t do it alone. The Lake Placid bid delegation that traveled to Atlanta in 1996 knew this and pointed to the 1992 Games based in Albertville, France as a model for Lake Placid in the future, spreading venues around a region – although many have said those Olympics were spread too thin.
A lot has changed since 1996. Then there were only two bobsled and luge runs in North America: here and in Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Now there are four, and more venues for other winter sports, too. As soon as Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, it gave the U.S. Olympic Committee another choice for future games. Salt Lake City, by the way, was a finalist for the 1972 Games that were eventually awarded to Sapporo, Japan.
To make things harder for us, the USOC is likely to bid for a Summer Olympics before a winter one, since the last time the U.S. hosted the Summer Games was 1996 in Atlanta. Gone are the days when one country hosted the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year, as was the case in 1932 when Los Angeles hosted the Summer Games and Lake Placid hosted the Winter Games.
Plus, there are more cities with Olympic dreams than ever, so the competition has increased. There are five bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, up from three for 2018. They are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; and Oslo, Norway. The International Olympic Committee Executive Board will narrow the list in July and choose one on July 31, 2015.
One of Lake Placid’s greatest assets is its tenacity to pick itself up after being knocked down, brush itself off and keep on going. In 1982, citizens formed the 2000 Club to bring back the Olympics by the year 2000. That didn’t happen. In the mid-1990s, Lake Placid worked with the Adirondack region to bring the Olympics back by 2022. That didn’t happen. Gov. George Pataki tried to push for a cross-border bid with Montreal in the early 2000s – but Canada was focusing all its energy on Vancouver for 2010.
History shows us that it takes decades with multiple bids to be elected the host city. Look at the 1980 Games, which we got after more than 20 years of bidding. In fact, 50 years ago last week, a local bid delegation headed by Mayor Robert Peacock left for the Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria to convince the IOC to choose Lake Placid as the host city for the 1968 Winter Games. The delegation included J. Bernard Fell, William J. Hurley, Ronald Mackenzie, Art Devlin, Stan Benham, James Sheffield, Luke Patnode, Harold Wilm, Karl Fahrner, Al Eggleston, Fred Fortune, Bob Allen, Jack Wilkins, Norman Hess and J. Vernon Lamb Jr. On Jan. 28, 1964, the IOC chose Grenoble, France instead.
“The following day, Wednesday, Jan. 29, seven Lake Placid athletes will march in the ceremonies opening the IX Olympic Winter Games,” the Lake Placid News reported on Jan. 23, 1964. Those seven were Jeanne Ashworth, speed skating; Jim Page and Jim Shea, nordic combined; and bobsledders Reg Benham, Bill Hickey, Jim Lamy and Gary Sheffield.
Here are some words of wisdom Editor Marge Lamy wrote in the News’ Jan. 23, 1964, issue as the bid delegation – and her bobsledding husband, Jim – headed to Innsbruck:
“Whether or not we have an opportunity to host the Winter Games again, we can continue the all-out devotion to presenting Winter Sports, which has been the mainstay of the community. We know enough about competing and handling events to know how a good sportsman takes his wins or losses. That spirit of sportsmanship underlies our whole bid, and will be most important in the week ahead.”
Even if Lake Placid doesn’t win a bid again, it continues to play an important role in Winter Olympic sports development and has earned its rightful place on the international stage. Having sent at least one local athlete to each Winter Olympics since the first one in 1924 is proof that Lake Placid maintains its relevance in the world of Olympic competition.
But still, we can’t believe Lake Placid has given up on its quest for a third Olympics.