Thirty-four years ago, the Winter Olympics were held in our region in a small village, with much less spectacle than the modern games. As the Sochi games approach, some of the people involved with the Lake Placid Olympics are looking back at the 1980 Games — and noticing just how much the Games have changed.
Ted Blazer was a teenager when athletes gathered in the small Adirondack village to compete in the 13th winter Olympiad. Blazer is now President and CEO of the Olympic Regional Development Authority - ORDA - which manages the Olympic venues in Lake Placid. "When you look at 1980 there was an awful lot of volunteer people that had their roots in sport and it was part of their lives and they were able to get the Olympics back here in Lake Placid, first having them in 1932. There was a professional staff, but there was an awful lot of volunteers that made the whole wheel turn. You know, as the Olympics get larger and larger and more professional then it takes a professional team to administer it with security and all the things that are on a grander scale than they were in 1980. It's just a bigger machine."
The Olympics have grown substantially since 1980, with more sports and athletes. The Director of the Lake Placid Olympic Committee President’s staff Howard Riley compares the nearly 2,500 athletes headed to Sochi to the 1,300 in 1980. "There’s all of the events that we didn’t have in 1980. All of the women's teams from bobsledding and ice hockey. We didn't have curling. We didn't have skeleton racing. So there are so many more events and so many more athletes. They've at least doubled in size."
While there were some complaints during the 1980 Games about transportation to and from the venues, those in this area point out that all the Olympic venues are clustered near the village and the furthest is less than 10 miles from Lake Placid. Recent winter games, including Sochi, have some venues hundreds of miles from the central location. Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism President Jim McKenna had just graduated from college and was selling Olympic souvenirs in 1980. He remembers Lake Placid as very tight-knit, whereas subsequent games have been spread out across urban areas. "There was a feeling in the air from those games. Something that I haven't felt since that time period. And most of the sites since 1980 have been in metropolitan areas, with maybe the exception of Lillehammer. And when you're in a city environment there's other commerce going on. Where in Lake Placid it was all about the games."
Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee Chair of Protocol and Ceremonies Jim Rogers voices what most say is THE biggest change since the 1980 Olympiad. "Television. They're having a hell of a lot to do with Olympic sports. If this sounds cynical I apologize for it, but the International Olympic Committee gets 10% of the television rights. I think for $100 million they probably let television have a lot to do with the winter games. All the new sports are made for tv, they're x-games types. And it's great tv, don’t get me wrong."
Retired television reporter Jack LaDuke was the audio-visual director for the Lake Placid Olympics. ""Lake Placid was without doubt the last small town Olympics held. At that time ABC and the other television networks realized that there was a tremendous audience out there. Remember Lake Placid not only had the U.S. defeating the Russians, but they also had Eric Heiden winning five gold medals. Doroty Hamill skating, beautiful skating events. So the other networks realized they could make money. That's when the bidding started on a higher level than Lake Placid."
The Lake Placid Olympic cauldron was refurbished several years ago. Its flame will be relit next Friday to honor local athletes at the Sochi Olympics and commemorate Lake Placid’s Olympic heritage, which also includes the 1932 Games.