Keene, NY Wednesday Oct. 1
Do you believe in miracles? Some of us do-and remember.
Today was going to be a hiking day but it started out cool, cloudy, and foggy. We thought we would go to Lake Placid first and then go for our hike. Lake Placid is only a 25 minute drive from our hotel. It is a small town, less than 3,000 people. But it has had a big impact on winter sports. The 1932 and 1980 Olympics were held here.
We toured the Olympic Center and then took a 1.5 hour tour with a guide who was on the planning committee for the 1980 Olympics and was the head of the Protocol Committee. The tour was fantastic. It is impossible to relate all of the stories and details he provided. We will try to relate a few highlights that you might find most interesting.
In 1980 the U.S. was in a funk. Iran hostage crisis, home mortgage rates around 15% or higher, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and we did nothing. The Winter Olympics were being held in Lake Placid in 1980 even though the US had egg on its Olympic face after Denver had won the rights for the 1976 Olympics and reneged on their pledge. The U.S. hockey team was facing the all-powerful Russian team that had won the last four Olympics and had defeated most of the NHL teams in exhibition matches. The U.S. was not expected to do well.
Well, as many of you know, the U.S. beat Russia and went on take the gold medal, beating Finland in the championship game. It is familiarly known as the Miracle on Ice. It is hard to over emphasize the impact this game had; on the future of the Winter Olympics, on hockey, on U.S. ego, and, as we heard today, on Russia.
Our tour guide has been doing these tours for 15 years. He has had 40-50 Russians on his tours who were alive at that time and who have uniformly told him that it was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire in their minds. One young Russian woman told him that her parents made her promise to visit Lake Placid when they found out she was going to visit the U.S. for that same reason.
In 1980, Soviet propaganda consistently told its people that communism made them great, communism even made the hockey team great. It took two days before the official propaganda machine told the people that their invincible team had lost. It told them their team lost because the U.S. had bribed the officials. When the Soviet people found out the real details and realized how they had been lied to, it began people thinking. That was the story we heard.
Or we should say, one of the stories we heard. Our guide reminded us of Herb Brooks’ motivational messages to his team. In the Russian game, it was: “If you play the Soviets ten times, they will beat you nine times. But tonight, this is your time to win.” At the Finland championship game, after the second period when the U.S. was down 3-1, he said: “If you lose this game, you will take it to your F****** graves.” They won the Finland game 4-3.
1980 was the year Eric Heiden won five individual gold medals. His sister Beth won a bronze. No one before or since has won five gold individual medals. He told us how classy a person Heiden was and it was unfortunate for him that the hockey game over-shadowed everything else. The silver and bronze medalists, not from the U.S., in the competition where Eric won his fifth gold medal, carried him from the stadium on their shoulders.
Lake Placid was probably the last of the small time Winter Olympics. The entire opening ceremony was 25 minutes long.The heads of the local committee were a minister, a dentist, a radio station manager, etc. They wanted this to be an Olympics for the athletes. They were offered an extra $250,000 (remember this was before huge TV sums for the games) to switch the time period for the U.S. and Russia game. They refused because it would upset the training plans of the teams. (The U.S. Russia game was shown in the U.S. on a three-hour tape delay, not live.)
U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale made a last-minute change to watch the championship game on Sunday. Our guide told the local chairman who had planned to be at luge at that time to switch his plans and attend the hockey game. Despite his reluctance and his Republican affiliation, the local chair made the change and he and Fritz Mondale jumped for joy together when the U.S. won.
The local committee got NY State to construct a new penitentiary in the Lake Placid area. It was used to house the 1700 athletes for the Olympics and then modified to house prisoners. The speed skating rink was outside on the high school track with refrigerant pipes under the track, the high school was shut down for several weeks and became the media center.
Lake Placid has a winter sport culture. The first ever Winter Olympic gold medal was awarded to a speed skater from Lake Placid. There never has been a Winter Olympics without Lake Placid people. Vancouver had 14, Sochi had nine. The overwhelming percentage have been born in this area, although some do move here to train. For decades, the arena here was the home ice training facility for the figure skaters from the U.S. and Canada. Lake Placid is the only place that has erected a memorial to the figure skating team members that died in a plane crash in 1961. Three generations of one family have been Olympic contestants.
Well, there are more stories but you can come to Lake Placid and take the tour yourself. Time was moving on and a hike without a meal break did not seem wise. While looking for a restaurant, we ran into three gentlemen from Menasha, WI; one lived on Firelane 8. They were traveling with Nationwide Tours out of Appleton. We did not get their names, though. But by the time lunch was over, it also did not seem wise to start a mountain hike in mid to late afternoon. So we drove around the Adirondacks until we arrived at the Adirondacks Park Visitor Interpretive Center.
This used to be a state-run facility but with cutbacks, it is now run by Paul Smith’s College, a private four-year higher education institution with about 1,000 undergrads. It has a museum and a system of trails. We arrived there in time to learn that the school has a Wednesday evening buffet open to the public by reservation only; and then learnt that reservations had to be in by 2 PM. We missed the deadline. (So dinner was popcorn from a Lake Placid popcorn store; not as good as Candyland in St. Paul.)
The trail system was smooth with a path lined with wood chips and plenty of identifying trail markers. This allowed us to enjoy the scenery and not be watching our feet all of the time. The colors were great and the scent of pine was frequently in the air. Locals tell us that this fall is the best in five years (yea) but that the peak was probably last Saturday (boo).
Our drive home took several interesting turns as we roamed the roads. We checked out Whiteface Mountain and first learned that the road to the top was closed due to road construction; then we learned that the road should be open on Saturdays and Sundays. So more about that on Saturday’s upcoming post.
Ed and Chris 10/1/14 10:45 pm