Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games

Adirondack Journal

Lake Placid has had the privilege of hosting two Winter Olympic games, first in 1932 and again in 1980. While games in the past were much smaller in scale than the extravaganzas they have become, it is still remarkable that a village with a population of well under 3,000 people could host an international sporting event twice.

Both games required the new construction of facilities to host the sporting events. For the 1932 games the additions included an Olympic Stadium and a bobsled run — a sport that many Americans at the time were not familiar with. Over time the games grew in both size and events. The 1980 Olympics required a 90-foot ski jump, a field house for hockey and figure skating, a luge run, a refrigerated speed-skating track, and an Olympic Village.

The first time Lake Placid hosted the games, only seventeen nations were represented by 252 athletes (21 women, 231 men) competing in fourteen events. Thirty-seven nations participated in the 1980 Lake Placid games, and were represented by 1,072 athletes (232 women, 840 men).

Lake Placid was inundated; though only 51,000 people were allowed into the village on any given day, it was still an overwhelming number for this tiny community. (“Money made in ’80 Olympics – without gouging” Press Republican, 2/16/05) The streets became pedestrian malls, and only pre-approved vehicles could drive through town. (Adirondack Life, Jan/Feb 2005)

The thirty-eight events were successful due largely to the work of over 6,700 volunteers who assisted with managing crowds, directing visitors, driving shuttles, and countless other tasks to ensure that the events ran smoothly. Many full-time Adirondack residents filled these roles, receiving special credentials and blue parka uniforms, one of which resides in the Adirondack Museum’s permanent collections.

On February 22, 1980, the Lake Placid games became famous for “The Miracle on Ice.” The United States hockey team, consisting of amateur and collegiate players defeated the Soviet Union’s team, previously considered the best in the world.

Also in 1980, Eric Heiden, a U.S. speed skater, accomplished the unique achievement of winning gold in all five events that he competed in, breaking the previous held Olympic records in each, and becoming the first person to win five gold medals at a single Olympic games.

Lake Placid continues to play a significant role in the Olympic community. Its facilities are still used as training centers for current Olympic contenders. Athletes from around the nation travel to the Adirondacks to train. In addition, a significant number of regional athletes have received national recognition in their sports. Be sure to keep an eye out for our local Olympians next time you watch the winter games!