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History of figure skating in Lake Placid

December 19, 2012
By RICHARD?FROST - Special to the Enterprise , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A slim volume entitled "Lake Placid Figure Skating - A History" seeks to present just that. Author Christie Sausa, a skater herself who once wrote columns on the sport for this newspaper, clearly loves her subject.

Lake Placid jumped ahead of the curve in figure skating popularity thanks to the Lake Placid Club, and especially Godfrey Dewey. With the community being a pioneer for winter sports in America, locals may have found little surprise in the International Olympic Committee suggesting that Lake Placid host a Winter Olympics.

Dewey travelled the world to examine other winter sports venues. He sought to assure himself Lake Placid could meet the necessary standards. Then he came back to convince the community. Once the 1932 Games were officially awarded to the Adirondack village, he helped spearhead construction of facilities. Lake Placid actually became the first place in the United States to boast an all-year indoor skating arena.

Figure skating had no assurance of popularity in the Olympics. After its trial as a demonstration sport in the 1908 London Olympics, it didn't find its way back onto the agenda until 1920. Popularity grew from there, and Lake Placid found itself perfectly poised for a major leap (or should I call it a major toe loop?) in skating history.

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie won the Gold Medal for figure skating in 1932, her second of three such triumphs. But winning prizes only hints at what she did for the sport. Henie changed skating's fashion statement with her change from long skirts and clunky black boots to knee-length skirts and sleek white skates. Plus, she transformed straightforward skating routines into artistic affairs more reminiscent of dance

She also showed a flair for marketing. Once her competition days began winding down, she toured as an exhibition skater and began an acting career. Movies gave her entry to a public already fascinated by her image in sports pages and fashion magazines. Sonja Henie dolls and lines of jewelry further added to her business success.

World-class skating teachers began setting up shop in Lake Placid. Switzerland native Gus Lussi became a notable coach to both local wannabes and international stars. Such future champions as Dick Button, Tenley Albright, and Dorothy Hamill came to Lake Placid to hone skills and learn new techniques under his tutelage.

It's important to understand that local residents attended skating schools in large numbers, too. They undoubtedly benefited from meeting and watching international stars going through similar training. The Skating Club of Lake Placid held its own competitions and produced regular ice shows for the community.

By 1980, the idea of a community being informally urged to host the Olympics had become quaint. In fact, the quest for the 1980 Winter Games began in earnest over two decades earlier. Lake Placid had to suffer through its share of disappointment before finally being granted its second Olympics.

Ironically, whereas the 1932 Games helped imprint figure skating onto the American psyche, the 1980 event may have slowed its development. By then, downhill skiing had forced its way to the top of the Olympic marquis. On ice, speedskater Eric Heiden and the victorious American hockey team enticed fans away from the artistry and style of figure skating.

Lake Placid was to see a corresponding lull. Other figure skating centers had developed, so the need to come to the Adirondacks to further a career diminished. Growth of the Empire State Winter Games and a burgeoning interest in synchronized skating added energy to Lake Placid. But what Sausa termed the "Golden Years" were over.

Karen Courtland Kelly helped fuel a resurgence. Her progressive training strategies incorporated off-ice regimens like Pilates and trampoline into skaters' regimens. She attracted the likes of Tara Lapinski and Brian Orser here to skate with local participants in her ice shows. Scott Hamilton, who had trained here and participated in the 1980 Olympics, chose Lake Placid as the staging ground for his annual "Stars on Ice" program. This brought yet another generation of champion skaters to local exposure.

I do have some issues with the book. The author has a tendency toward listing names and events; this could limit the book's appeal beyond regional skating devotees. This would be a shame, as she's at her best when putting the local story into national or international context. Some additional editing would have been helpful. There's too much repetition. Furthermore, excessive adjective and adverb use sometimes makes the text a bit too effusive.

But the story lines are engaging and intriguing. One might express qualms at my ability to review a skating book. After all, until reading this, I thought a triple axel was something you found on an eighteen-wheeler plying the interstates. Now I understand Lake Placid's role in (I quote the author) "figure skating ... being born as not just a sport but also an art that could be appreciated by all." I'm anxiously anticipating the next Winter Olympics. First, I think I'll have Netflix send me some Sonja Henie movies.

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This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.

 
 

 

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