The official proclamation describing the new Olympic Village at Lake Placid fairly rings with optimism. Not to mention idealism, goodwill and a heaping of old-fashioned boosterism. It speaks of "comprehensive facilities, coupled with attentiveness to detail and optimum service" so that the place will be remembered as congenial. It also looks forward to "...one of the best Olympic Villages in the history of the Winter Games.... On January 28, 1980, the Olympic Village will open its doors to athletes and officials from nearly 40 countries of the world. The primary goal of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee is to insure a happy, memorable visit for these world class athletes, to create a home away from home."
If all this sounds suspiciously like a hard sell for happiness, perhaps it should be said that what the 12-page document fails to make clear at any time is that this bit of heaven-sent Olympic real estate is, in fact, a jail. And around this jail a revolt, unprecedented in Olympic history, has broken out. In fact, a growing number of teams refuse to be incarcerated there.
The Village cost some $49 million to build, the funds coming from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide a future minimum-security facility for first-time offenders. One measure of the weird tenor of the times is that security precautions for keeping would-be escapees inside such a prison are almost exactly the same as security precautions for keeping would-be terrorists out of an Olympic Village.
The facility lies seven miles west of Lake Placid on 48 acres of land. It is—again quoting the relentlessly upbeat proclamation of the LPOOC—laid out according to "a campus-like design [which] complements the graceful mountain peaks which surround the sheltering forests in which the site is situated." There are 14 buildings of muted-yellow brick, most of them curving in a serpentine shape and arranged, indeed, to resemble a college campus.
The Village has 937 "sleeping rooms"—later to be known as cells—which will be occupied by either two or four Olympians. The rooms have bunk beds, wardrobe and equipment lockers and a writing table and chair for each occupant. There is also a towel bar, a sink and a mirror. The majority of the rooms have one window, a tall, narrow aperture that isn't barred, but has a steel rod running down the middle of the glass to discourage escape—or, in the case of Olympic terrorists, entry. The windows are 8'10" high and 15" wide, and there is some question as to whether or not they can be opened. There also are a number of rooms that have no windows at all. The doors are made of heavy steel with small peep-windows that will be used by prison guards in the Village's next life.
The rooms are arranged in two tiers around a large, brightly decorated and carpeted "leisure area." There are sofas and banquettes, and by next winter each of these 20 or so areas will be equipped with vending machines, television sets, games and other entertainment devices. Although the rooms are tiny to the point of incipient claustrophobia—about 10' by 10'—there is an aura of pleasing spaciousness in the lounges. Toilets and community showers are down the hall.
The "campus" is agreeable enough, although it is surrounded by two 12' concentric chain-link fences set 20' apart. The fences will be electrically sensitized; if anyone touches them, alarms will sound in a guard station at the Village entrance. The perimeter will be lit by night and, according to Lake Placid officials, "specially trained teams will be available around the clock to respond to any attempted penetration."
The only entry to the Village will be through a double gate kept under a rigid surveillance system. One must present a credential first at an outer gate in Building C. He will then be allowed to proceed while the gate is locked behind him. He next advances through an inner gate in Building Q. Besides the gates and visual examination by guards, there will be an electronic screening system consisting of three metal-detecting arches.
Also planned are a recreation center with a discothèque, "live disco superstars" and dancing lessons, two theaters, a weight room and snack bar and a shopping center. A swimming pool, massage rooms and a gymnasium will be available at a community college three miles away. There will be more than 250 TV sets in the public areas throughout the Village, daily maid service in the rooms, and the cafeteria will be open 24 hours a day. For all this, the national sports federations are to be charged $27.50 per day per athlete. (An estimated 2,000 athletes are expected to take part in the Games.) To hear the Lake Placid hosts rave about the Village, the accommodations would be cheap at thrice the price.
Unfortunately, almost no one else has joined in singing the committee's hymns of glory. Quite the contrary.