I have been a fan of the Olympics since I watched the Los Angeles Olympic Games as a teen. I sat in front of the TV watching as much of it as I could – all those countries that I wanted to visit some day were meeting in this one place to compete. And me not there. I watched the 1988 Seoul and Calgary Games as much as I could around school and schoolwork. Years later, when my hometown was bidding for the 1996 Olympic Games, I worked as a volunteer on the bid at the university I studied (Georgia Tech) which was to serve as the Olympic Village. I made it a goal while working on the Atlanta bid to go to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and I did – a great experience that I wrote about. Once the 1996 Olympic Games were being organized, I trained for two years to serve as Envoy to the Chilean delegation. I worked during the Games for the 6 weeks they operated them and had the experience of a lifetime. I have continued to watch Olympic competitions from afar despite the rather dubious way they are operated by a clique of about 100 people. There is just something about seeing all the diverse events that take place in those short weeks!
So, when I had the opportunity during a recent visit to the Adirondacks to explore Lake Placid‘s Olympic-related history, I was all in as you can well imagine!
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum
Lake Placid hosted the Olympics in 1932 and 1980. I had forgotten about its earlier stint until I read material from Lake Placid’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Right in the heart of town is the Olympic Center – a collection of facilities that includes the town’s Olympic Museum.
I loved the museum because it was manageable and not too big, and also because it had some really interesting collectibles related not only to the Lake Placid Olympic Games but some others about other Olympic Games (such as the commemorative medals, torches, etc.).
I learned some Olympic history and neat trivia which I presume is the point of a museum, no?! For example, I learned that the very first Olympic medal in a Winter Games (the first Winter Games were in Chamonix in 1924) was awarded to local Charles Jewtraw after winning the 500m speed skating event. The Americans swung their arms in the speed skating races – a technique not used before and noticed (and picked up later) by the Europeans. I enjoyed reading about how Godfrey Dewey, after going to the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz set out to bring the next Games to his hometown – and got it done within the year! I also read about Sonja Henie, a Norwegian whose name I had heard before but not fully knowing the full story. She was an Olympian in the 1924 Chamonix Games at the age of 11! She finished last in those Games but that inspired her to fight on and win medals in the next three Winter Games! A lot of these exhibits were accompanied by memorabilia such as the following:
The hockey goal from the “Miracle on the Ice” in the 1980 Winter Games was there in the museum along with some pieces of gear from the players.
I got to try out a bobsled in the museum with fellow traveler Erin, the awesome World Wanderer!
All in all, this little museum packs a punch and is worth the visit for any Olympics fans out there!
Herb Brooks Arena at the Olympic Center
Whether you watched it on TV (I didn’t) or watched the subsequent movie made to tell this amazing story, the gold medal game for ice hockey in the 1980 Winter Games is now the stuff of legends. Back in the days of the bad old Soviet Union and the Cold War, this was a game that had more implications than just sports. I will let you watch the movie if you do not know the story because it is worth watching. But the outcome is well known so I will share – the U.S. won the bragging rights in a spectacular game. Great kudos to the late Herb Brooks, the team of the coach, for whom the arena is now named…
I got to visit the arena and ponder how the place must have sounded that night (on the assumption that those rooting for the local team “slightly” outnumbered the visiting team… and silver medal winners!). But the real thrill was getting those ice skates on to try the rink! I was part of a group that was being allowed to skate on the rink after a girls’ competition had finished before the Zamboni came onto the ice to work its magic. I had not ice skated for over 20 years and… no, it wasn’t just like riding a bike where it comes back in a flash.
We only had like 10 minutes on the ice and by then end I was doing a little better (no falls!) but not the ease of moving around. I was bummed I could not stay another 10 minutes to “find my legs.” However, the miracle that I got to ice skate in this famous piece of ice is definitely one for the books (my books, I suppose!) – we had fun as the following photo with Francesca from The Working Mom’s Travels shows:
A little luge please
As part of my little tour of Olympic Lake Placid, I was fortunate to be able to visit a training facility for the U.S. Olympic luge team. This particular facility is only one of two refrigerated start ramp training facilities in the United States used by the U.S. teams.
That day, 1998 Nagano Olympian Larry Dolan was gracious enough to spend an hour of his Saturday afternoon to show the group how to do the luge start. Accompanied by his young cute son (who rode the luge first with his Dad), Larry first had us try the start motion on a luge attached to track (non-iced, and not quite a ramp as it was horizontal). It was awkward to lay down immediately after pushing off so I got to try it twice.
Then, came the big moment: going down the iced ramp. After pushing off, the luge would go downhill, run horizontal, and the back up a small incline (I assume to help slow it down), ending at a large blue cube made of foam (where the run would end).
I went first. I put my helmet on, stepped on the ice next to the sled I was about to ride. As I touched the sled with my shoe, it moved way more than the force of my hit. Wow, that thing was REALLY sensitive to touch, to movement. Yikes!! How would I keep that thing from going haywire downhill and hit the sides of the track??? I got on the sled carefully. I looked down. I grabbed the handles of the start line that I would use to push off. I swung back and forth using the handles and I pushed off! I leaned back super fast and felt the speed gather. When on the luge, you can’t look forward, your head has to be back and down for aerodynamics (and we were trying to keep form). But I could see the blue cube a the top of the uphill at the end and I could see my feet were pointing to the left side of the cube. Oh, shoot – was I about to end not on the cube but outside and to the left of it?? Never fear, I struck the cube on its left edge and my run was over. Wow, it was a COOL ride! Though I wanted so badly to do another run, there was no time as others had to go and our visit was limited in time. Now that I have tried the start, I sort of wish I could do more. I also wish we had had luge in the Caribbean where I grew up because I think I would have loved this sport! Here is the video of my run. N.B.: the scream is Erin’s not mine!
Now, around the corner is Sochi!
After this fun visit to Lake Placid that connected me again with the Olympics in such a powerful way, I wish I could be in Sochi during in a couple of few weeks. But next best is Lake Placid, home of two Winter Games and key training center of Olympic athletes. I’d likely hang out at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery to enjoy their great beers and food (the mousse glasses for dessert are awesome!) as I watched the events.
I cannot think of a better place to go and watch the Winter Olympics this year than the awesome town of Lake Placid in the beautiful Adirondacks!
My activities in Lake Placid were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.