While there is an ordinary sound to these people, Lake Placid is not quite an ordinary mountain village. It is winter-sports-minded to the point of obsession. The little town has all the history and most of the statistics necessary to prove that it is not only a good selection for the Winter Olympic Games but that it is the perfect selection.
Citizens will begin by informing anyone who will listen that the very first gold medal ever won in a Winter Olympics was won in 1924 at Chamonix by Speed Skater Charlie Jewtraw of Lake Placid, N. Y. And they will go on to say that Lake Placid has supplied no less than 64 members of U.S. Olympic teams and that 10 of them won gold medals. And that Lake Placid has the largest instructional program in figure skating in the world; that there are probably more accredited world judges or experts on ski jumping, figure skating, bobsledding and speed skating per capita here than anywhere outside of a real Olympic Village; and that the village of Lake Placid has held enough world-championship events to rank No. 1 in the U.S. in that category, events that include Nordic skiing (1950), the biathlon (1973), the World University Winter Games (1972) and the bobsled competitions of '49, '61, '69 and '73.
And they will conclude by saying that they probably know more about the intricacies of staging the Winter Olympic Games than any other group of citizens in the world. Not only have they experienced an Olympics in the past, they have spent the last 20 years trying to get them back.
"There is not much we don't know about the ins and outs of Olympics—politically, technically, esthetically," says Luke Patnode. "It has been a way of life for most of us for years."
Too true. When it comes to understanding the machinations of Olympic gamesmanship, the North Country Boys are experts. Not counting the 1932 Games, they have tried six different times to bring home the Olympic bacon. Lake Placid began bidding for the Games in 1954, but that year the U.S. Olympic Committee chose Squaw Valley, and the 1960 Games were held there. In 1963 Lake Placid launched a mammoth campaign to get the Games of 1968. It won the USOC's backing that year, then began a 15-month drive to woo the members of the International Olympic Committee. Teams of Lake Placid men took off to visit every IOC member in Europe and South America.
Bob Allen, the rink manager, recalls part of that campaign: "We'd just go in and sit down across the desk from those guys as if we were selling insurance or something. We sent a local minister to talk to the IOC man in Israel and we sent a priest to South America. It was fairly low-key. One old, old IOC member in Czechoslovakia said, "I don't see why you want the Games again. You just had them in 1932, didn't you?' We were convinced, though, that we were doing a great selling job."
Norm Hess, the attorney, says, "Everyone was very polite, very agreeable. In Warsaw we saw the whole Polish winter-sports delegation at once in a giant reception room. In Zagreb the IOC man took us to lunch. In Liechtenstein, Prince Franz Josef himself took us through his castle and gave us lunch. It was a very educational year for us."
Luke Patnode says, "We spent $150,000 on that bid. We had a fantastic exhibit set up in Innsbruck when the IOC met to vote that year. We had this general in the Air Force behind us. He arranged special jet flights from the States to Austria for us. He had a huge cargo plane—the biggest plane that had ever landed in Innsbruck—bring in our big electronic exhibitions. One of them was like a computer. It had 120 buttons on it and it gave print-outs in six languages about any winter sport and what Lake Placid had to offer. It sounds great. It was a dud. Hardly any IOC people even looked at it. What they liked was the slide projections we had of dog-team races and they watched them over and over.
"We thought we were really going great that year. We had arranged a big reception for the IOC after the vote. Our general had arranged to fly in Virginia ham and smoked turkey and salmon. We figured we had it in the bag. By our count, we figured we'd have 14 votes on the first ballot and we'd get the rest—we needed 27—on the second. All we had to do was celebrate."
Unfortunately, the North Country Boys were tenderfeet in the labyrinthine world of Olympic bidding: they got a grand total of three votes and were eliminated after the first ballot. At the reception, delegate after delegate came up to say that he was so sorry that Lake Placid had lost, but that, of course, he had voted for them. "Nearly 20 guys claimed they were for us," says Luke Patnode. "We've argued for 10 years over exactly who those three votes came from." That year the IOC picked Grenoble as host of the 1968 Games on the third ballot. In hindsight, many Lake Placid men think that the Communist bloc switched to France because the day before Charles deGaulle had officially recognized Red China, the first major Western leader to do so. Smoked turkey, Virginia ham and computer readouts in Swedish could scarcely compete with such a magnificent power play.