My Experience Volunteering at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, flags

I shared earlier, as a lead-in to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics, how I was involved as a college student in the efforts to win the rights to host the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.  Once again, though not exactly a travel topic, I use my blog to share my experiences related to the 1996 Olympics.  In this installment, I will talk about my experience in preparation for and during the Games.

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, flags

ilivetotravel in full Envoy uniform

Becoming an Olympic volunteer

Let’s rewind to around 1994, when I was informed about a role that was going to be seeking volunteers for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and that I should apply as a natural follow-on to my involvement in the efforts to win the Games.  The role was called Envoy and there would be one per participating delegation.  The purpose of the role was to be the liaison between the Organizing Committee and the particular country’s delegation focusing on the relationship with the head of the delegation, or Chef de Mission as they are called in Olympic lingo.

I interviewed and was named to be the Envoy for Chile, perhaps because having found no candidate from that country, I was next best since I had lived there for 3 months a few years before (and, of course, I spoke the language).  The requirement for the role was that we would attend weekly meetings from 1994 to 1996 and that we would be full-time available a total of 6 weeks before and during the Games.  My employer at the time (Andersen Consulting) allowed me to use up my vacation to cover these six weeks and, when my vacation bank ran out, they graciously offered me 50% of my pay as their way to show support for my involvement and I took the rest of the time without pay.  More importantly, my employer allowed me to be staffed in an intown project (vs. traveling every week which I had been doing for almost 3 years up to that point) so I could participate in the weekly meeting which took place Tuesday nights.

Two years learning about the Olympics

The weekly meeting for two years was required as there was a lot to learn.  From the processes the delegations would have to deal with (registration, arrival, drug testing, ordering box lunches for training sessions, and on and on) to the sports venues, the sports themselves, the workings of all aspects of the organizing of the Games, etc.  Every week for two years close to 200  of us gathered at the Georgia Tech electrical engineering building auditorium (where I sat many times during my college years!!) for these sessions.  We, the folks who represented Latin American countries tended to cluster together and have a blast during all this.  A couple of others joined us because they also were fun though they did not represent Latin American countries (the envoys for France and Canada come to mind!).

It was fascinating to understand the workings of this complex endeavor.  And, as we reported to the Olympic Village organization, it was fascinating to understand how you launch a small town of 20,000 for a 6-week life span (delegations can arrive as early as two weeks before the start of the Olympic Games, hence why we had to be available for more than the duration of the Games).  Many Georgia Tech dorms and frat houses were refurbished, new mattresses were brought in, and the security zones and mechanisms had to be installed.  Delegations were strategically scattered around the campus based on many factors like delegation size, threat levels they could have (think the Israeli delegation… also of note, Iran was placed right by the highway – no threat likely to them!), and proximity with like or unlike countries (big Latin –read, party- countries were placed together in an area north of campus separate from the rest; think Italy, Spain, etc.), etc.

The Atlanta Olympic Village at Georgia Tech

The Village was a phenomenal place.  It had a zone open for visitors who got invited by delegations or Village officials.  This included the main cafeteria.  And then it had a higher security zone with restricted access to the residential part of the Village and other more private areas for the athletes and officials.  Envoys got to stay in the residential part of the Village too so we could be close to our delegations if need be.  We probably got the worst spots.  Ours was a frat house that, while I am sure had been cleaned up some, was still a little on the not-nice side so I opted to stay home and just deal with waking up super earlier to make our daily 6AM meeting.

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo

The frat house where I was able to stay at the Village

Georgia Tech, Olympic Village, Chile delegation, photo

My delegation’s house and my Chef de Mission on the left

We did get to dine with athletes at a number of facilities around the Village.  There happened to be a McDonald’s tent right behind my delegation’s house.  You could smell the hundreds or thousands of burgers cooking!  And athletes from other countries, especially those without any or many McDonald’s, absolutely loved it.  Not sure there coaches did…  The main cafeteria was great.  I ran into a few famous people whether athletes, coaches, or visiting VIPs.  Two that stand out were Dolph Lundgren (who was there as a coach and who SO patiently stop his meal to get up to have his picture taken with athletes), and the Queen of Spain.  Towards the end of the Games, my delegation let me have two of their limited guest passes so I could have my Mom and stepdad come visit and eat at the Village.  To his last days with the use of his memory, my stepdad so enjoyed telling people about the time when he ate at an Olympic Village – I was so blessed to be able to give them the opportunity to be at the Village!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, cafeteria

My wonderful Mom and I at the main cafeteria at the Village

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, cafeteria

Meal tickets for the cafeteria

My job as an Envoy

I had a small team working with me as my delegation was not big but it was not tiny.  There were to associate envoys and two drivers in the team.  One of the neatest things about this was that I got to invite two good friends to apply for these positions and work together during the Olympics!

My day to day work was to be of service to the Chef de Mission and accompany him wherever he needed to go.  (In reality, his number two really ran the delegation so I supported the delegation through him but I spent more time accompanying the Chef de Mission around).  Because of this requirement of the role, that meant we had to have the same access as the head of the delegation which gave me access to any space, seating area, etc. in the Olympics.  There was only one place he could go that I could not:  the field of play (being the boxing ring, the basketball court, or the area immediately around a swimming pool).  But these access rights allowed to sit in the area reserved for officials if I wanted to watch an event.  As long as a delegation official did not need a seat, I could take it.  Often I was with him but sometimes when he didn’t need me, I took advantage of this to watch some event or another.  It was cool.  I saw quite a few good and important events!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, handball

Medal ceremony for men’s handball

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, tennis, Atlanta, 1996 Olympics, Olympic Games, photo

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario playing

Eraser, Arnold Schwarzenegger, premiere, 1996, Atlanta, Olympics, Olympic Games, Georgia Tech

The premiere of Schwarzenegger’s Erase was held at the Olympic Village!

The Atlanta Opening and Closing Ceremonies

One super neat privilege this role gave me was the ability to go to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies without having to buy a ticket as I was expected to accompany the delegation to those events.  For the Opening Ceremonies the delegations were sat in an old stadium neighboring the Olympic Stadium (Fulton County Stadium which was demolished after the Olympics were over).  There they awaited the start of the Parade of Nations when they would walk into the Olympic Stadium and then stand in the field for the rest of the ceremony.  I sat with the Chilean delegation as they waited their turn.  Someone missed cuing the delegations in a timely manner at the start of the process and we ended up having to run between the two stadia to get them there on time.  This was a scary moment as our Chef de Mission was in his 70s and not necessarily fit.  It was a bit terrifying but we made it. At the point they would enter the stadium, the Envoys broke away and ran through inside tunnels to then re-join the delegation for the last third of their march.  I am not fully clear why we were not allowed to just march with them the whole way but I am grateful we were allowed to do some of the march as it was an experience to march in the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games!

Atlanta, Olympics, Opening Ceremonies, Olympic Games, 1996, Parade of Nations, pass, defile des delegations, Olimpiadas

The pass that allowed me to march with a delegation!

One of my biggest regrets is that I did not lug my camera around all over with me.  Things were too busy and these were days far from smartphones and social media so you did not feel the need to capture every moment of life – back then we just LIVED life.  I ran into famous people (royalty, politicians, famous athletes, etc.) but there are no pictures.  I got one photo of me in the Opening Ceremonies thanks to the envoy to Ghana who had a disposable camera at the Opening Ceremonies and graciously took my photo!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Opening Ceremonies, cauldron

Clearly not the best quality but my only photo at the Opening

The Opening Ceremonies took place on a hot day (July in Atlanta…) and that evening it was hot and humid especially in the field in the stadium where there was less chance of a breeze.  Having all these people stand waiting for a couple of hours or more was a bit like torture.  I kept myself busy trading pins (my delegation had given me, like they do every member of their delegation, a bag of Chilean pins so I could trade!), taking in the entertainment, etc.  Sadly, an official in the Polish delegation had a heart attack during the Ceremonies and would die from it due to the stress to his body that night.  Olympics since have gone ahead and provided seating so the delegations do not have to endure this two hours or more of standing – it was highly inconsiderate to have required them to stand in 1996 and earlier especially since the athletes will be competing in a few days after the Ceremonies (the ones who would compete the next day seemed to skip that night so they could be well rested).  I presume they did not give them seating before so they could sell more tickets to the public (the dirty little secret is how much a business the Olympics really are and even corrupt as later events would reveal about members of the International Olympic Committee – a pseudo-royalty who lives in a world of perks and political intrigue…).

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Me awaiting the start of the Closing Ceremonies! (the one waving!)

Anyway, the Closing Ceremonies were a different affair because seating was planned for the delegations.  Of course, as soon as the opportunity arose (when the official business of closing the Games and passing the flag to the next host finished and the musical part of the show began), many delegations jumped “the fence” and got into the field to dance and enjoy themselves.  Go figure!  I did not miss a beat and followed my delegation though I pretty quickly lost them in the mayhem in the field.  It was a fun time and we had some disposable cameras this time which allowed us to take a few shots to remember the night by.  I recorded the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at home and watching the recording of the Closing Ceremonies always makes me smile.

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies,

Partying during the Closing Ceremonies in midfield!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan performed at the Closing Ceremonies

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Bringing down the Olympic flag during Closing Ceremonies

Remembering the entire experience makes me smile.  To me the Atlanta Olympics were nothing like the negative image portrayed.  Everything worked as well as any city can with tons of visitors.  The spirit of Atlantans was evident in the welcoming attitude, the staying away from driving as much to minimize traffic, and the incredible number of people who served as volunteers in every possible job imaginable.  I was and am proud of my city.  The Olympics may be a weird animal but it certainly allows the world to come together and change the conversation for two weeks every two years.  I am glad I got to see it from the inside and have the experiences I did!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Envoy

With some of my favorite people (but not all!) from my time as an Envoy

 

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My Grain of Salt in Atlanta Winning the 1996 Olympics

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico

My blog is about travel and this post may seem a bit off-topic but I hope you will indulge me because it is the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics and because my fascination with travel is related to all these places on Earth we call countries – which, in turn, get together every few years in peace for an event we call the Olympics.  And I am fascinated by seeing all those places…

A Georgia Tech student volunteering for the bid

As a college student at Georgia Tech in the late 1980s, I heard that Atlanta was going to bid for the right to host the 1996 Olympic Games.  It sounded a bit far-fetched but, at the same thing, it sounded so exciting.  I quickly learned that fellow students had created an organization to help greet the International Olympic Committee (IOC; they would choose the host city) members when they visited Georgia Tech which was suggested as the Olympic Village.  This was back in 1989 and the movement was grassroots way before social media existed and people developed hysterics about grassroots campaigns being enabled by social media.  The Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition (GTOC) was set up by students and was, initially, staffed by students getting ready for the first IOC visit to the Tech campus in May 1989 when IOC members from five countries would come to check out Atlanta and OUR campus (I only remember Japan, Sweden and Finland of the five but remember creating a massive banner in all the languages!).  We not only created the massive banner (an all-nighter) but had students in several locations with balloons ready to show the spirit, and a student from each of the visitors’ countries ready to greet them in their native language.

I left that summer for an internship out of town but when I returned faculty and staff had joined our student-launched coalition.  And we loved having the support -and wisdom- of our faculty and staff.  We got to work side-by-side, no patronizing the students, with amazing individuals from a EE professor, to the head of Registration (and her awesome staff), to the landscape and physical plant folks, and many more.  It was an incredible experience to continue to support visits by the IOC VIPs to our campus (even if some of them turned out to be corrupt as later scandals revealed…).

In any case, my main job consisted of finding students at Tech or at any university in the Atlanta area from the country of the IOC visitor and then get them prepped so we could be sure and deliver the personal touch.  That personal touch in everything done by the AOC (Atlanta Organizing Committee) and GTOC, I am sure, won the day after the first round of voting took place in Tokyo in 1990…  One thing I will say is that, while GTOC was still a student-only organization, we came up with the idea of selling bid t-shirts for $5 to raise funds to support our expenses!  (Namely, helium, balloons, banner raw materials, etc.)  Not even the committee organizing the bid had come up with the idea of selling t-shirts!  I like to think we were first in commercializing the Atlanta Games…

Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, welcome

Working hard to prepare the grounds at GT for the IOC visits!

Olympics, Atlanta, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, welcome

Entrance to the Wardlaw Center on North Ave. with the flags of visiting IOC members

I personally got to welcome the IOC members from Puerto Rico (Germán Rieckehoff Sampayo; because I grew up in P.R.) and from Hungary (Pal Schmitt, a future president, because we could not locate any student from Hungary; thanks to Frau Venable, my German teacher, who spoke some Hungarian and taught me a greeting that made Mr. Schmitt think I was Hungarian!).

German Rieckehoff,IOC, ilivetotravel, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition

Luckily for me, someone snapped and gave me this photo of Mr. Rieckehoff’s visit!

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico

Me giving Mrs. Rieckehoff a pin or something!

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico, IOC

Mr. Rieckehoff being greeted by GT President Crecine with Billy Payne looking on (me, front left)

Celebrating winning to be the host city of the 1996 Games

Anyway, fast forward to the day when the 1996 host city decision was being announced in Japan (September 1990).  The announcement was expected right before morning rush hour began that day in Atlanta.  I had been up most of the night inflating balloons (I actually can be seen in an WXIA Ch. 11 news clip that morning!) for the celebration should we win the bid at Underground Atlanta.  I went home for just a little bit and was back early enough to be on the steps of Underground Atlanta as the announcement was made.  It was an incredible feeling to see the dream of Atlanta hosting the 1996 Olympics come true!

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

Waiting, in the wee hours, for the announcement (me toward the left)

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

iivetotravel in the middle of the cheering!

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

A few seconds after hearing the news (me in the center, half-hidden)

As a reward for our work, when the victory parade took place, GTOC volunteers walked along the Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Wreck in our loud yellow t-shirts – and, again, I can be seen in video from newscasts about the parade (yes, I have those news shows in DVDs now that I converted my old VCR tapes!).

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

GTOC volunteers awaiting to start the victory parade!

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

With fellow GTOCers waiting to start the parade – always clowning around…

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

With fellow GTOCers waiting to start the parade. I think am the only student in this pic.

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

Me in the midst of the parade in downtown

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel, Ramblin Wreck

GTOCers (me on left) parading along the GT Ramblin’ Wreck!

So, I end this write-up here but the best part comes when in 1994 I was selected, after interviewing, to be an Envoy for the delegation to the Games from Chile, where I had worked three years before.  The Envoy was a relatively new role in the Olympics and it was focused on being the liaison between a country’s delegation and the Games.  I would spend two years of weekly meetings preparing for the role and then 6-weeks around the actual Games as part of this role which afforded many, many wonderful experiences that will be with me as long as I have memory – or get to read this blog, as I plan to write about that in the near future.

It’s been twenty years since the Olympics transformed my city and left an indelible imprint in my mind.  Wow.

Exploring Food and Lodging in Lake Placid

cinnamon roll. strawberries, maple syrup,, Generations, Lake Placid, foodie, cooking

While visiting Lake Placid earlier this year, I spent a day exploring this northern New York town.  Because it was a rainy day, we skipped some of the outdoor activities but we got to visit some neat places and enjoy good food and drinks (of course!).  I shared already about the very well set up Olympics Museum, my “adventure” at the luge training facility, and my skating at historic Herb Brooks Arena (check it all out here).  Having covered those sites so tied to Olympic history, I should probably share with you more of what Lake Placid has to offer.  In this post, I will share about some of the lodging, food, and drinks that I enjoyed checking out during my visit.

A lodge you can dream of – and then go see for yourself!

One of our stops was the Whiteface Lodge. I had heard it was an incredible place and it did not disappoint!  I was staying in the town of Lake Placid proper at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort which was ideally situated close to many places I visited and with a great restaurant (Generations) right on site (more on the restaurant below).

The Whiteface Lodge consists only of suites, and there are suites of every size.  Even the “small” ones are well-equipped with nice kitchens, fireplaces, large screen TVs, and balconies.  Some of the suites are outright “owned” by private individuals who may live there, visit there, or partially rent them back to the Lodge to then put into its reservations system.  The most amazing suite was the Presidential Suite which the General Manager of the resort kindly showed us since it was unoccupied that day.  I can safely say the Presidential Suite is bigger than my house!!!

Lake Placid, Whiteface Lodge, Presidential Suite, decor, travel, accommodations. lodging

The living and dining room areas of the Presidential Suite

I was impressed by the beauty of the outdoor areas and how the space is well-laid out for different activities that guests may opt to take part in.  For example, there is a fire pit for making smores (I didn’t get to eat any!).  The resort also has indoor spaces for every age and interest.  From a two-lane bowling alley, to its own movie theater, to a game room, and to a phenomenal spa for lots of R&R.

While I did not stay at the Whiteface Lodge, I can assure you I was not going to miss its bar (open to the public) to check out its specialty seasonal cocktails and tasty appetizers while chatting with friends.  Though they had a series of interesting martinis, I opted for a specialty cocktail (as I seem to have become a specialty cocktail adventurer) named Jacob Marley’s Return:  Bourbon infused with apples, cinnamon, and cloves with Frenet Branca, and maple water.  All these ingredients came together excellently for a cocktail perfect for the season and area of the country.

cocktail, Whiteface Lodge, Jacob Marley, Bourbon, maple syrup infused, Lake Placid

Introducing… Jacob Marley’s Return!!

As part of my visit, I was invited to try the thermal pools which was great as it was snowing and being outside in hot waters watching it snow was priceless.

Whiteface Lodge, Lake Placid, heated outdoor pool, jacuzzi

The steam from the heated pool makes for a slightly less than excellent photo but you get the point!

A different lodge

Lake Placid is big enough for more than one lodge and certainly for different kinds of them.  The Adirondacks Loj, operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club,  is perfect for those wanting a more basic place to stay.  Sitting at the edge of Heart Lake, the Adirondacks Loj offers also more of a communal feel with shared dining room and even shared rooms (you can have a private one).  The Loj seemed like a great base for hiking and its staff clearly was eager to help with information or anything else.  It may be a great place to use as a base but I think I would also enjoy cold winter nights in front of the massive stone fireplace!

Photos of Adirondak Loj, Lake PlacidThis photo of Adirondak Loj is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Great food everywhere.  I am not complaining.

No visit to a new town is complete without sampling the food on offer.  The night we arrived we went to a pub which was perfect for the mood after a five-hour drive in from the outskirts of New York City.  The Lake Placid Pub & Brewery was packed yet we had no trouble finding a spot to perch ourselves on.  I drank some pints of the oatmeal stout which was perfect to help me recover from the long day.  That stout and a delicious flatbread pizza of the many on offer and ilivetotravel was a happy camper that night!

The next night we went Lisa G’s known for their excellent chicken wings.  I had some as an appetizer but dove in for an incredible chorizo risotto with Manchego cheese that was out of this world.Lisa G, Lake Placid, restaurant, food, cuisine, cooking, foodie, chicken wings

Lisa G, Lake Placid, restaurant, food, cuisine, cooking, foodie

The chorizo risotto

For my beverage, I kept up the theme from the cocktail I had had earlier that evening at the Whiteface Lodge and chose a Bourbon-based cocktail:  The Sassy Cider – Bourbon with maple syrup, lemon juice, some cider, and a little cayenne pepper – perfect to warm me up after a cold and wet day!

The morning I was leaving, we went for brunch at the Generations Restaurant associated to the Golden Arrow (where I stayed this weekend).  With a great view of Mirror Lake, we enjoyed all sorts of good and impressive stuff, local-sourced and fresh.  The cinnamon roll with strawberries and maple syrup clearly hit the right spot for my sweet teeth (in plural, because I have more than one sweet tooth).

cinammon roll. strawberries, maple syrup,, Generations, Lake Placid, foodie, cooking

Mmm!!!!

Everything we tried was great and then the piece de resistence came to us:  bison burgers cooked on a Himalayan salt block.  I had never heard of the concept but a large salt block is heated to high temperatures and then brought to your table.  The bison burgers are laid on it and you let them cook until your preferred level of “cooked”  Ir was amazing to see this salt block cook my burger.  Here are the before and after pictures of this neat trick!

bison burger, Generations, Lake Placid, Himalayan salt block, foodie, cooking

Before…

bison burger, Generations, Lake Placid, Himalayan salt block, foodie, cooking

After!

Now that I have shared all this with you, I am developing quite an appetite…  I think you get the point:  Lake Placid offers great experiences beyond its Olympic history and outdoor activities (which I hope to experience in the near future!).  It sits in the beautiful Adirondacks, a blessed corner of our country and one I am glad to have discovered!

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My activities in Lake Placid were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and local businesses.  Opinions my own!

Lake Placid: An Olympic of a Town in the Adirondacks

Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, hockey goal, U.S. flag

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.

Lake Placid, Olympic museum, New York, Olympus

Welcome to the 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:

bobsled, helmet, Lake Placid, Henry Homburger, Olympus

Bobsled helmet worn by Henry Homburger when he and his team won silver in 1932 – scary mask!

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.

Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, hockey goal, U.S. flag

1980 Gold Medal match hockey goal and U.S. flag

Lake Placid, hockey, Winter Olympics, Olympus

Miracle on Ice U.S. hockey team members’ ID badges

I got to try out a bobsled in the museum with fellow traveler Erin, the awesome World Wanderer!

bobsled, Olympic museum, Lake Placid, Olympus

Crash position!

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…

Herb Brooks arena, Lake Placid, Winter Olympic Games, Miracle on Ice, Olympus

Magical Herb Brooks Arena at Lake Placid’s Olympic Center

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.

ilivetotravel, ice skating, Herb Brooks Arena, Lake Placid, Olympus

Lightning flash fast! Watch out Eric Heiden!

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:

ice skating, Herb Brooks Arena, Lake Placid

Oh,no! I am crashing into Francesca! Watch out!

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.

luge, Olympics, Lake Placid, Olympus

The start ramp

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.

Larry Dolan, luge, Nagano, U.S. Olympic team

With U.S. Nagano Olympic team member, Larry Dolan, our gracious instructor

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!

luge, sled, Lake Placid, Olympic training facility

Great advice from a sled at the luge training facility!

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My activities in Lake Placid were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

Sports Travel: Not My Usual Pursuit but Fun

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

I am not much a sports traveler.  I don’t chase “my” teams.  I don’t go checking off famous sports arenas.  I don’t chase big sports events.  Heck, what am I saying, I am not much a sports spectator.  I do it in big occasions (usually involving Georgia Tech, my alma mater) or when the opportunity comes up to do so and enjoy being with family or friends (which, I admit, is not often).  However, there are some things I have greatly enjoyed related to sports and travel.

All that said, I can get into sports easily when the right opportunity comes up.  Here are some examples of how travel and sports have offered some great experiences…

Traveling to the Olympics

First on that list is going to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics which I shared in another post.  Yes, a big enough event gets its own post :).

Barcelona, Olympics, post card, logo, Olympic rings, 1992, souvenir, travel, sports

I worked in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, lived in the Olympic Village, and got to see many events (for free and in the dignitaries’ seating area!) – but that was not travel for me (though it was to many who came to be part of this great event).

Olympic Village, cafeteria, Atlanta, Olympics, sports, travel

With my awesome Mom at the Olympic Village cafeteria

Traveling for the Olympics may involve more expensive hotels than normal for the location, patience with crowds at events and in public transport, etc.  But it is a fun way to see a new place.  The older I get, the less likely I am going to want to deal with the crowds of these large events but I may have a Football (Soccer) World Cup in me…

Baseball’s World Series

Baseball may or may not be the world’s most boring sport (or is it cricket?) though it is a fun sport to be at to socialize.  But when the stakes are high, it can be as intense as any other sport.  I got to watch game 2 of the World Series in Toronto in 1993 where the Blue Jays played the Philadelphia Phillies.  I was working in Toronto at the time and our local office partner was able to produce tickets for us to attend (he wanted us happy about having to travel to Toronto weekly for months on end).  No complaints here.  And Toronto won that series on game 6.

World Series, baseball, Toronto, Blue Jays, Phillies, Skydoe, ticket, souvenir, travel

My ticket!

Rugby Down Under

The day I landed in Sydney, Australia from the U.S. there was a key rugby match (away) between New South Wales and Queensland.  My friend is a big fan of his home state’s team and he asked if I was too tired to go to the pub with him to watch.  I was jet lagged and had spent the day walking around the city but could not say no.  Well, I could have but part of me was intrigued about how Australians watch their sports in pubs so I tagged along  He did a great job explaining the sport and the differences between union and league as I had watched international rugby matches before and was getting a little confused by what I was seeing in this match.  In any case, though I slowed down during the middle of the game, I soon got my fourth wind of the day when the game approached its exciting end.  It was a great intro to Australia right after arriving to hang out with him and his friends watching a sports event that locals love.

I had coincided with the Rugby World Cup when I went to Paris in 2006 but was not clued in before I went and was not yet too into the sport to have bothered to try to watch a match.  I regret that as I now find rugby an exciting sport to watch.  By the time I went to New Zealand in 2009, I was more into it having watched on TV some of the international series.  So I enjoyed a couple of nights going to a local pub and watching with the locals.

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

An English fan in Trocadero and a rugby ball in the Eiffel Tower during the 2007 World Cup

And Football (Soccer) Down Under

While visiting friends in Melbourne, the opportunity came up to watch a football (soccer) match where Australia played Japan.  One of my friends and I went with some co-workers.

The match was a friendly match and nothing to write home about but what is something to write about is how much drinking goes on in these matches and how not-well some of the locals handle their over-drinking.  Yes, sometimes as you walked around the stadium, you had to hold your nose as not everyone managed to reach a trash can or a toilet on time.  It was like a minefield!  No pictures needed for this…

stdium, sports, soccer, football, Melbourne, Australia, photo, travel

Phone photo does not expose the minefields!

Baseball around North American Cities

One cool thing about catching a sports event in another town is getting to see the arenas where these events are held (though some I could care less if I see).  Sadly, professional sports are way too commercialized and the owners hold cities and their taxpayers hostage (don’t get me going on this…) so I seek to not sponsor the businesses with any regularity.  But I don’t deny having enjoyed watching the Yankees play at the no-longer-around Yankee Stadium or the Mets at no-longer-around Shea Stadium.  Though I admitted not being much into sports travel, I have to confess I DO want to go to Fenway and Wrigley some day as well as watch the Green Bay Packers play at home in the middle of a snowstorm (for real!).

Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field

I may be biased but one of the most historic college football fields is Georgia Tech‘s Grant Field where Bobby Dodd Stadium sits which celebrates its 100th birthday this year (as a full stadium).  It IS the oldest stadium in Division 1.  And it is the site of the most home wins in Division 1 (I’d like to see more of these lately…).  The foundation of the stands was built by students back in 1913 – amazing, huh?   Of course, a lot of re-building has taken place on the facility, some good and some not visually impressive but it really is not THAT important as the facility is a great one to watch sports:  it is not an abomination in terms of size so you really feel close to the field and it has great views of the Atlanta downtown skyline (I love being in the west stands late in the afternoon – great colors!).   This stadium witnessed the most lop-sided win in history in 1916 (granted the rules of the game are not the same now) where Tech beat Cumberland 222-0.  Not even a basketball score gets that high!  All school loyalty aside, it is part of college football history and a great place to experience.  I enjoyed it as a college student and now as an alum!

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So all this said and done, the opportunity to visit a landmark in sports history has come my way and I will be going in January 2014.  Stay tuned to find out where this is!!!

What fun sports travel have you done?

What do you recommend I don’t miss out?

The Barcelona Olympics

1992 Olympics, ticket, event, diving, final, competition, Barcelona, Olympic Games

Along with 2 friends, I arrived in Barcelona during the Olympic Games in 1992, ready to experience the Olympics.  Being the pre-Internet age, planning for this wasn’t as “easy” as it would be today.  So we arrived with NOTHING.

A crowded hotel scene during the Olympics with the arrival of thousands of tourists could scare most people away.  Not us.  Foolishly and in the carefree way of young people , none of that made us think we shouldn’t do it.

We arrived at the train station from our overnight ride in from Madrid (my first real train ride and first overnight!) and figured out where we needed to go to be in the center of the action.  We found out there was a kiosk (or maybe a series of them) that helped visitors, among other things, find accommodations.  So we headed to the plaza at the foot of Montjuic and found the kiosk.

Montjuic, castle, Barcelona, Spain, Olympics, 1992 Olympic Games, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Montjuic Castle at the foot of Montjuic where several events were held

It was awesome – they immediately started calling hotels to find one that had rooms.  And so it was.  It was a very small hotel, nothing grand but it would do for sure!  Don’t remember anything about it except that the toilet tank was up high and we had to pull a chain to flush.  It was the first one like that we had all seen so it clearly remained stamped in my memory whereas other details where flushed away from my memory.  (I had to…)

However, I jumped a step ahead.  We also took advantage of being in Montjuic to look into tickets.  We were able to get tickets to a diving final event right on Montjuic from some folks who were selling their tickets without trying to retire off the proceeds from the sale (clearly, not Americans).  We got lucky!  So before we went to the hotel to check in, we went to the event with our bags along for the ride!  Imagine that:  today, who would be allowed into a venue with any large shoulder bag??

1992 Olympics, ticket, event, diving, final, competition, Barcelona, Olympic Games

Ticket to the diving final

Final of the women's diving at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Presenting the medals, top center: Prince Albert of Monaco

The event was in a great setting as it overlooked the city – it was a phenomenal view.  Plus we got to see a medal award ceremony which was neat.

Montjuic, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, vista, view, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Top left shows La Sagrada Familia (under some cloud of smog) from Montjuic

After the event, we then went to the hotel to get rid of those bags and keep on “doing” the Olympics and eating, of course.

Over the 3 days we were in Barcelona we also got to see athletics competition, a basketball game, and a baseball game.  Tickets for the latter we got at the U.S. Consulate.  A fellow American tipped us off that we could get tickets there.  One good thing about experiencing the Olympics was the camaraderie with fellow Americans.  It didn’t matter that perhaps in our country we would sit next to each other at a restaurant or bus stop and not talk to each other.  But abroad?  Instant conversation and friendship.  It was pretty cool.

1992 Barcelona Olympics, Olympic Games, souvenir, ticket, billet, public transportation, mascot

Public transportation pass with the Olympics’ mascot

Sadly, our stay in Barcelona was too short and too Olympics-focused.  We got to see some of the sites (e.g., La Sagrada Familia) and experience some of the city (e.g., Las Ramblas) but the Olympics is only once and that was the focus.  I shall return to Barcelona to see progress on La Sagrada Familia and explore more of this great world city.

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