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Lake Placid embraces its connection to Winter Olympics

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LAKE PLACID — From the moment you enter the outskirts of the village, it makes no secret of its claim to fame.

Before you even see the town, a sign greets you on Route 86 pointing out that Lake Placid hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.

The small downtown features the American flag hanging on poles down the narrow Main Street, which is lined with stores that often have a winter sports or Olympic theme.

“We’re Olympics from one end of town to the other,” said Sandy Caligiore, the public-relations representative for the U.S. luge team and a hockey broadcaster for local radio station WNBZ in the 1980 Olympics. “You could come to this town any day of the year and you would know it hosted two Games. You would have to literally drive through blindfolded not to know that.”

There are four basic areas that feature venues from both Olympics here.

The main village still has the 1932 and 1980 ice rinks, which held the ice hockey and figure skating competitions. Also downtown is the speedskating oval in front Lake Placid High School, where Jack Shea won two gold medals in 1932 and Eric Heiden earned five golds in 1980.

As you go to the outskirts of town, you find the Olympic torch on a platform in a field next to the airport, and nearby is the ski-jumping complex.

Continuing your drive out Route 73, about 10 minutes outside of town, you come to Mount Van Hoevenberg, which hosted the bobsled, luge, cross-country skiing and biathlon competitions.

The final stop on the venues tour is Whiteface Mountain in nearby Wilmington, which held the Alpine ski events.

“I think the venues, cosmetically, pretty much look the same,” said Denny Allen, general manager of the Olympic Center. “(But) the Olympic Authority and the state of New York have put an awful lot of money, since the Olympics, into these facilities to maintain them and keep them up to date.”

The 1932 and 1980 hockey rinks are in the same building, but they’ve essentially maintained their look from both eras. The 1980 rink, now known as the Herb Brooks Arena, was the site of the U.S. hockey team’s 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in 1980, which was dubbed the Miracle on Ice. Open the doors, which feature a mural of that semifinal game, and you step into a facility that looks much as it did 34 years ago, even with the same scoreboard.

“It still is a hallmark of ice hockey in the United States,” Allen said. “The movie, “Miracle,’ gave us a shot in the arm for sure. Now younger generations are familiar with what went on in 1980. It’s still a very prominent sports venue in the history of the country.”

Perhaps the biggest venue change has occurred on Mount Van Hoevenberg, site of the bobsled and luge track in 1980. The track, built into the ground, became too dangerous to use as sleds evolved and times got faster.

A new luge, bobsled and skeleton track has been built on the mountain, and unless you’re looking for the 1980 track, which is off to the side of the road, you might not notice it’s there.

Whiteface Mountain also has made it easy for recreational skiers to see how they’d do on Olympic courses. A sign at the base of the mountain, which lists each ski trail, specifies the runs used for all the events in 1980.

“I think it’s more a point of interest to say you went down the same trail as an Olympic athlete,” said Jay Rand, executive director of the New York Ski Educational Foundation.

Not every Olympic host site has maintained its history as well as Lake Placid. Most venues from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., have been torn down. The site of the hockey arena, where the United States won the gold medal, is now a parking lot.

“You look at it with a tremendous sense of pride that the community and the state have had the forethought and willingness to continues this Olympic heritage,” Allen said. “It’s a community that always amazes me.”

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