Miracle on Ice
Oct 17, 2008
|Sporting Event of the 20th Century - Friday, October 17
Today we’re going back to the Lake Placid Arena, to see their Olympic Museum and to take the guided tour we were too late to take yesterday. This small town has hosted two Winter Olympics, one in 1932, and the other in 1980, and so many famous athletes have trained and competed here that the name Lake Placid has become synonymous with winter sports. Having heard about it for so many years we were anxious to see it and to hear some of it’s interesting stories.
On the way to Lake Placid, however, there is a natural attraction called High Falls Gorge, and not being people who can resist the opportunity to cram another event into an already full day, we pulled into their lot and parked next to two yellow school busses. A couple local teachers had the same idea, and they’d brought their classes to High Falls Gorge for a field trip. We paid our money and joined them on the trail.
High Falls Gorge is what the name implies, a deep narrow canyon cut into granite and basaltic bedrock by the West branch of the Ausable River, one of New York State’s most famous trout streams. Unlike the Hudson River which flows south to the Atlantic Ocean, the Ausable River flows north and joins the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway. The depth of the gorge tells us it has been doing this for a very long time.
The $20 admission fee seemed high for the privilege of taking a half hour walk, but the gorge was worth it, and it is obvious when you see it that no small expense has gone into building bridges and catwalks to make it accessible. The pictures above do not do it justice. Photographing white water against dark rock is an exercise in futility for a digital camera, and no camera can capture the size of the falls or the force of it’s flow. Madolyn’s film clips come the closest, and maybe the best testimony to the impact of the falls is that two busses full of blasé’ teenagers seemed just as enthralled as this old geezer.
In spite of our stop at the gorge, we made it to the Arena with time to spare. We bought our tickets for the 1:00 o’clock tour and still had time for a quick lunch and a visit to the museum. With exhibits and memorabilia from two Olympics, the museum is quite an interesting place. There are archaic looking helmets and gloves worn by the bobsledders of 1932, and a pair of ski jumping skis that were state of the art in 1980. There are the skates and costume worn by Sonja Henie when she won the gold medal in Ladies Figure Skating in 1932, and the goal, stick and gloves used by goalie Jim Craig when he held the mighty Russians to four goals in 1980, setting up the United States team for the ‘Miracle of the Century’.
The combined effect of comparing the old artifacts with the newer ones is to leave you with the realization that even the Miracle on Ice happened over a quarter century ago, and in that context all of this stuff is archaic! The latest greatest bobsled of 1980 looks like a Greyhound bus compared to the sleek sleds of today, and skating costumes that were the height of fashion in 1980 only look that way if you compare them to Sonja Henie’s costume. In the end they all look like something your grandmother would have worn, and they are a jarring reminder of how quickly time passes.
Two well dressed couples in the museum were discussing the bobsled, and one of the men was trying hard to convince his friend to take a ride on one. He said he’d done it at Park City, Utah and he said, “There’s nothing like it!” I couldn’t resist the urge to butt into their conversation, and I said to the friend, “Just don’t let him convince you that it’s fun - because it isn’t!” The other guy laughed and realized he’d been busted, and we got into a lively discussion of the experience. His wife jumped in and told how terrified she’d been, and Madolyn joined us too. It was a hoot, and we all enjoyed comparing notes.
At 1:00 we went upstairs for our tour, and again we lucked out and got the best tour guide possible. Jim Rogers is a tall, thin man of 75 who was on the Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1980 Olympics, and who was in charge of accreditation and protocol for the event. He is a lifelong Lake Placid resident, and said he had also attended the 1932 Olympics, but in his mother’s womb. He worked as a volunteer for the Salt Lake City ski jumping event, and he is a walking and fast talking treasure trove of wonderful inside information.
He is an extremely friendly man, and since we were the only two people on the tour he made it really personal. Much of it centered around the 1980 Miracle on Ice. The hockey game that pitted the U.S. team against the ‘unbeatable’ Russians was designated by Sports Illustrated as the Sporting Event of the Twentieth Century, and Jim took into the Herb Brooks Arena where it happened. A CanAm hockey game was in progress, but he took us to a place in the balcony where they have a monitor set up, and he played a tape of the final two minutes of the game for us.
The United States had already scored the winning goal, and the last two minutes of the game consisted of fighting off an increasingly desperate and ferocious Russian attempt to tie the game. I watched that game on TV in 1980, and it sure was fun to relive it again. After that Jim took our picture there. Jim said that the arena which was built to hold 8,000 people already had 12,000 people in it when he got there and the police wouldn’t let him in. His wife doesn’t like crowds and wouldn’t let him pull rank and use his official pass to force the issue, so they went home and watched it on TV too, although they saw it on Canadian TV which showed it live, whereas U.S. TV showed it on a taped delay.
Jim enjoys ‘bragging’ about Lake Placid, and he told us many interesting stories. He talked about everything from the building of the arenas, to a face off he had with the Russians over accreditation. One story seemed to bring him almost to tears. He told of many Russians he has met over the years since the Miracle on Ice, who have told him that they believe that game was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
They say it was several days before the Russian government controlled TV told it’s citizens that their team had lost, and then they blamed it on bribes by the U.S. and every other excuse. Russians say that was the beginning of a crack in the Soviet façade. A crack that got wider and deeper until eventually it fell apart.
We thanked Jim Rogers for a wonderful tour, and walked back to our RV full of thoughts about all the things he’d told us. We feel like we know Lake Placid so much better now, and whenever we hear of it from now on, we will always remember Jim and his love and knowledge of the place.
We spent the next few hours driving to Tupper Lake and visiting a place there called The Wild Center. It is billed as the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, and it is so compelling that we watched two movies and then retreated to a nearby campground where we can spend the night and return to see the rest tomorrow. A lot of The Wild Place’s exhibits are outdoors and it is getting very cold tonight. Hopefully, tomorrow it will be warmer!