“I like your hat,” Bill offered mischievously to the middle-aged Russian man.
The man kept walking with a deliberate gait.
“Trade you my Vikings football cap,” Bill tries, with the tact of a paparazzo in the Olympic Village.
The Russian gentleman stopped and looked at Bill. Then at me, wrapped in a parka the size of the Hindenburg.
“Nyet,” the man delivered stoic faced, as he disappeared amidst the snow flurries.
This was the beginning of my trip to Lake Placid. At age 19, it was a safe bet that Bill and I were not destined to be good will ambassadors for these Games.
We left for Lake Placid from our Binghamton University dormitory at 2:00a.m., to a mock chorus of God Bless America from the less than enlightened frat boys. About forty pioneers boarded a charter bus for the one day, 14 hour roundtrip journey from Vestal, New York. As we pulled away from campus, my thoughts wandered back to Franz Klammer’s downhill run in 1976 at Innsbruck, and to the ice-cold keg of beer in the back of bus – courtesy of those more than enlightened frat boys.
Headline - Monday, February 18, 1980 - Bus waits may last throughout Games
“For the sixth day in a row, spectators were forced to wait for more than an hour-and-a-half at some venues sites.”
Headline – Many treated for frostbite
(UPI) “A bitter wind from the Northwest … plunged the ’chill factor’ to minus 40 (F and C).”
When the bus arrived at 9:00a.m., the first thing I wanted to do was see the Olympic torch and get in touch with all the good that it represents. The silver cauldron was perched about 100 feet above the snowdrifts. The base of the structure was a very unassuming platform from which the torch was first lit. After the lighting, the cauldron traveled up to its resting place along a track supported by two thin white beams, one on each side of the track. Access to the torch was permitted, as Bill took a picture of me on the platform. I posed with both arms raised in victory celebration form.
Headline – U.S. Government pressures USOC to boycott Moscow
Headline – Counter Olympic site sought
(UPI The United States has set a deadline of Wednesday, Feb. 20, for the Soviets to withdraw their estimated 95,000 troops from Afghanistan.
The first event we saw was the 70 meter combined Ski Jump at Intervale Mountain at 12:30p.m. For $16.80US, Bill and I got to stand among a pack of people for two hours without binoculars, hot chocolate, or wool socks. No matter. While our vantage point wasn’t perfect, it was a treat to watch airborne jumpers maintain their poise. During the event, my mind wandered back to Binghamton where everyone was huddled under blankets in front of the TV for the Games, while I was here as a witness to history.
Headline – ABC didn’t seem to be with it
(AP) “Even though it showed two gold medals being decided, ABC didn’t really seem to be into the Olympics during its 2½-hour presentation Sunday. … Delaying presentation of the downhill was inexcusable after the results were announced.”
After the ski jump, we had a few hours before going to an ice hockey game at the Olympic Center. Bill and I used this time to look around the Olympic Village. I vividly remember an East German athlete limping near us. We tried to talk to him about his injury, but the language barrier proved to be daunting. I also remember people from all over the world trading pins, and wondering what the big deal was. Who knew?!
Headline – What to do in a crisis
“If your car stalls out, your fingers freeze up, or you find out the place you had planned to stay the night is all booked up, don’t panic. [The disaster operational plan] is only a phone call away.”
At 4:30p.m., Bill and I headed into the Field House for a greatly anticipated ice hockey match between the USSR and Finland ($28.00US for lower level seats). When we bought tickets several months earlier, we were more excited to see the best hockey team on the planet than to see our homegrown USA team (which was playing Romania later that evening). After all, the Soviets were going to win the gold in style, right? Though Finland jumped out to an early 2-1 lead – much to the delight of the mostly American, anti-Russian crowd which chanted “Finnish ‘em off!!!” – the Soviets were formidable, beating Finland, 4-2.
At nightfall, we saw a spectacular fireworks display over frozen Mirror Lake, as the Games ended for another day. The competition would continue through Sunday, February 24 -- ending with the Gold Medal Round of the ice hockey tournament. But for Bill and me, it was back to the ice-cold bus with the empty keg of beer. And a seven hour trip back to Binghamton and a TV Olympics.
Headline – Monday, February 25, 1980 – Lake Placid: The Deserted Village
“With the games ending, Olympic Village will now be prepared for the role it was built for – as a prison.”
Thirty years -- and half a lifetime -- have passed since my journey to Lake Placid. And in that time, I don’t tolerate the cold as well, busses still don’t arrive at events, corporate logos loom larger, and people lob bombs to make a point. It’s enough to make those close to the Olympic Movement question their very involvement in the spirit of competition for the sake of a higher purpose.
In 1997, I sat in an Atlanta movie theatre for the world premiere of Bud Greenspan’s documentary, Atlanta’s Olympic Glory. Memories of the Lake Placid Games rushed back as quickly as the images of 1996 Games flashed on the screen. I’m fascinated as to how Mr. Greenspan, a self-described historian, captures poignant yet often unnoticed moments of the Games while filtering out the high profile politics of the day.
For me, such a perspective on history is a matter of one’s outlook. But ultimately, what we dwell on and how we recall important events are functions of choice. And isn’t that the heart and soul of the Olympic Movement - - to choose an ideal to shoot for, as we live and deal with the headlines. Day-by-day, as an integral part of the equation.
As I watch the Vancouver Games, I will approach them with the same anticipation as that 19 year old playing in an icebox called Lake Placid. Choosing to filter out without minimizing the scandals and the other negative things we often confuse as being newsworthy. Walking between the snowflakes.
Hoping this time to meet that Russian gentleman with the hat, and believing this time he’d say - - “Da, but throw in two pins with that stupid looking cap!”
Perry Binder, J.D. is an author, professional speaker, and Legal Studies professor in Atlanta, GA. From 1992-1995, he was a sports radio talk show host on Miami Beach, where his shows included Love of the Game. He has appeared on ESPN Classic, discussing the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding case and other sports controversies.
c 2000-2010 Perry Binder
Daily Olympic Digest, Lake Placid News, February 18, 1980
Red Smith, The New York Times, February 25, 1980, page C3
Schedule of Events
Monday, February 18, 1980
Lake Placid Winter Olympics
8:00a.m. . Men’s Figure Skating, Compulsory Figures
9:00a.m. Women’s Cross Country Skiing - 10 kilometer
10:00a.m Men’s Alpine Skiing - Giant Slalom, 1st Run
12:30p.m. Ski Jumping – 70 meter combined *
* Gold medal: Anton Innauer, Austria, 266.3 points
1:00p.m. Canada-Japan Arena
1:30p.m. Sweden-Norway Field House
4:30p.m. Holland-Poland Arena
5:00p.m. USSR-Finland Field House
8:00p.m. Czechoslovakia-Germany Arena
8:30p.m. USA-Romania Field House
Team: East Germany - 23 Medals 9 Gold 7 Silver 7 Bronze
Individual: Eric Heiden, USA, Speed Skating – 5 Gold Medals