SARANAC LAKE - Historic Saranac Lake's three-part May seminar series concluded Thursday with the panel discussion, "Remembering the Olympics."
In front of more than 30 people in the John Black Room at the Saranac Laboratory, Howard Riley, Jim Rogers and Jack LaDuke recalled their involvement with Lake Placid's 1980 Olympic Winter Games during a lively hour-and-a-half discussion.
Among the themes discussed were the history of how Lake Placid won the bid to host the games, the world's reaction to the games and the lasting impact the Olympics has had on Lake Placid and the region. They also talked about the successes, as well as some glitches that came along with the Olympics here.
Howard Riley, left and Jim Rogers listen as Jack LaDuke talks about the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid during Thursday’s panel discussion in Saranac Lake. The three men played key roles prior to and during those Olympics, helping the village win the bid for the event and covering it through the media.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Rogers was one of 10 members of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, and was involved with the sports scene in the area well before that when he became a charter member of the Lake Placid Sports Council in 1961. As the editor of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Howard Riley traveled to Switzerland in 1973 to cover Lake Placid's bid in front of the International Olympic Committee, and later worked with that organization when the Games were taking place 1980. Covering winter sports in Lake Placid since 1950, LaDuke was the audio-visual director for the 1980 Olympics.
Rogers said this area's ability to host the world for big sporting events decades before the 1980 Olympics took place played a key role in Lake Placid's successful bid. He pointed out that events including bobsled World Championships and the Kennedy Games in the early 70s were large-scale competitions that put Lake Placid on the world sports stage.
"We knew how to do the sports, the question was did we know how to do the transportation and the other things," Rogers said. "One of the main reasons we came up with the Olympics was we tried so very hard."
LaDuke opened the discussion noting a reference that Sports Illustrated made about Lake Placid's perceived inability to host the Olympics, stating the article said "This town is too small. It couldn't pull it off." He continued that the story described the two-time Olympic Village as a "slightly seedy town."
He went on to say that following the Olympics, Sports Illustrated "changed their tune a little bit" when it called the 1980 Games the sporting event of the century.
The discussion also touched on an important point in the history of Lake Placid winning the Olympic bid was when Denver was chosen to host the 1976 Games. Due to environmental opposition, Denver backed out and the Games moved to Innsbruck, Austria, but Lake Placid was waiting in the wings. After bidding a number of times for different Olympics, Lake Placid landed the Winter Olympics for a second time.
"We just kept at them (the IOC)," Rogers said. "We got to know them and they got to know us."
And once Lake Placid was chosen, getting money to prepare the village and venues was another task that the panel talked about.
"It was like the dog that chases the Greyhound bus and catches it," LaDuke said. "Once you catch it, what do you do next? Lake Placid didn't have any money."
Riley said when all was said and done, the Lake Placid Olympics had a $160 million price tag and only a $4 million debt remained. Rogers pointed out that the cost for each of the two most recent Winter Olympics - in Vancouver in 2010 and Torino in 2006 - was $1 billion.
The three panel members often drew laughs from the audience while telling their stories. Some of the more interesting topics included the bus transportation snags and reactions to the fact that the Olympic Village in Ray Brook would be become a prison after the Games concluded. Another funny story dealt with United States speedskater Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals competing in Lake Placid. After capturing his fourth victory, he did a covert photo shoot for Time magazine wearing a fifth gold medal that he hadn't won yet.
The past winter marked both the 32nd anniversary Lake Placid's hosting of 1980 Olympics and its 80th of holding the 1932 Games. LaDuke said that snowfall was scarce during both of those events, and for the 1932 Olympics, snow was trucked into Lake Placid from as far away as Maine and the Laurentians in Quebec. LaDuke also noted that 1932 marked the the first time Olympic figure skating and hockey was held indoors in what is now called the 1932 Jack Shea Rink.
One topic that often gets mentioned regarding the two-time Olympic Village is "Can Lake Placid host a third Winter Games?" Riley and Rogers said that probably couldn't happen because the event has grown to a grand scale. Growth in the number of athletes alone is pretty dramatic. In 1932, the Olympics featured 254 athletes. That swelled to 1,300 when Lake Placid hosted the Games a second time, and in Vancouver, there were 2,300 competing.
The three panel members said if there was even a small chance of a third Olympics coming to the area, it would most likely be a combined effort from communities spread across the North Country - from Albany to Montreal.
"I guess we could have hockey in Potsdam and Plattsburgh, and some more events in Montreal," Rogers said. "Figure skating could take place in Glens Falls, and Albany could host things."
"And we could have curling in Vermontville," Riley added with a smile.
When the discussion ended, Riley, Rogers and LaDuke all received rousing applause from the audience.