Lake Placid is situated in Adirondack State Park, an area that long has been rigidly controlled by the state as a "forever wild" preserve. This not only increases the ecological restrictions but allows for relatively routine New York funding of many of the improvements, such as refrigeration of the bobsled run, work on the cross-country and ski runs, building new parking and spectator areas, plus the snow-making equipment. Some of these facilities would have been improved anyway as part of an expanding state recreational program.
The Lake Placid committee figures that New York State will spend about $10 million on the Olympics and that the Federal Government will contribute about $20 million. And while no funding bills have passed Congress yet, New York Senator Jacob Javits has said he will introduce the appropriations legislation when it is necessary. Although some may doubt easy passage of such financing in these days of economic uncertainty, one must note that even the totally fouled-up Games of Denver had received a Congressional guarantee of at least $15.5 million in Federal money before they went down in referendum flames.
The Rev. Bernie Fell is a man who has learned from all his years of bruises and bumps in unsuccessful Olympic campaigns to be essentially pessimistic, although he is by nature an evangelist. Fell said, not long before the IOC was due to vote, "I would not for one second predict that the IOC will select Lake Placid for 1980. However, we have left nothing unturned that I know of. Funding has traditionally been the biggest public headache in the Olympics, but behind that is always the question of preserving the environment. We have gone far out of our way to guarantee full protection. As for the money, I remember that a Soviet member of the IOC, Mr. Adrianov, asked me not long ago, 'How can a tiny place with only 3,000 people expect to put on a giant spectacular like the Olympic Games?' And I said, 'Sir, I have confidence that my government is the kind of government that backs its commitments.' And I believe that.
"I also believe that the time has come to return from the spectacular to the human-sized Games. Yes, we do need a certain amount of circus atmosphere to an Olympics. You can't expect gold-medal winners to have to run down the middle of the street to show people what they have won. No, you need some spectacle, if for no other reason than as a forum for recognition. But, you know, the Winter Olympics haven't grown much in terms of competitors in the past 20 years. Television is the way people see the Olympics. We don't want a million people to come to our town to see the Games. We don't want 5,000 members of the press. We want to keep it all in scale. Why shouldn't the Olympic Games be held in a mountain village? They are just games. We're not going to have a lot of big black cars and cocktail parties, we're not able to entertain on the scale of Roman emperors, which is what some IOC people see as the purpose of Olympics. We think the Games should be low-key, like they were 40 years ago."
So the circle is now to be completed. Lake Placid's Games of 1932 were simple and warm, cozy in contrast to the sprawling extravaganzas that have come since.
The whole show cost $1.2 million. There were no Alpine skiing events then. Indeed, there were only 12 events for men, one for women, one for both (figure skating pairs). The dimpled Sonja Henie, the most famous Olympian of them all, was just 19 that year and won her second figure-skating medal. The U.S. team was good that year, winning six gold medals, the best it has ever done in a Winter Games.
Jack Shea, then a rosy-cheeked hometown hero, became the No. 1 American performer with gold medals in the 500-meter and the 1,500-meter speed-skating events. He is an open, congenial man, but he also carries a certain small-town caution about him, the kind often found in storekeepers who have seen both good times and hard. "I was never really against having the Olympics here again," he says. "After all, Lake Placid has been living and thriving for more than 40 years on our reputation from 1932. We would have been a wide spot in the road had it not been for the Games. But I didn't want it to cause us to go into debt. You know, the town floated a $350,000 bond issue in 1930 to pay for the Games then, and we didn't pay that darn thing off until nearly 10 years ago. I just didn't want to have this town get a reputation for a lot of bonded indebtedness, so I was not wholeheartedly behind the campaign until I saw we could do it without big debts."
Today there is no one in Lake Placid more enthusiastic about the Games than Shea. "We have done so little in this country for the amateur athlete," he says. "Now we have the chance. With the Olympic facilities we'll have here, we can have a full-scale winter-sports training center. There'll be nothing like it in the country, maybe not in the world. We can finally begin to give something back to our athletes with these facilities. We have colleges around here, too, and we'll arrange courses in the psychology of competition, in physical education. We want to return the Olympics to the athlete, we want to return sports to the athlete. We aren't just trying to get a one-shot, one-week show from our Olympics, we're tying our whole future to it."
The proposed winter training center also would enable Lake Placid to become one of three or four alternating Olympic sites if the IOC ever makes the wise and inevitable decision to hold the Games every 16 years at the same site. However, the 1980 Olympics alone will bring an economic windfall to the area. Northern New York State has long been a depressed region; Lake Placid's own Essex County had the terrible unemployment rate of 16.6% last year.
A study on just what economic impact the Olympics might have on the region was concluded recently by a group of professionals at the state college in Pittsburgh. Among other things, they predicted that the Games themselves, through construction expenditures and tourism, will bring nearly $32 million flooding into the area in the next six years. And after the Olympics, the survey predicted, another $30 million will be generated over the next 10 years by tourists, competitors and athletes training at the facilities.