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YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Museum exhibit explores the ‘Olympic Prison’

October 10, 2014
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The population at the Olympic village for the 1980 winter games has declined over the past 34 years, but not by much.

The federal government built a village for the 1980 athletes in Ray Brook, and it was turned into a medium-security prison after the closing ceremonies. In all, 1,072 athletes competed in the 1980 games, according to the International Olympic Committee, and the population of inmates at the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution is 970, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum, operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority on the first floor of the Olympic Center, recently installed a temporary exhibit called the "Olympic Prison" that explains the history of the 1980 athletes' village and the facility's use since the end of the games, according to Museum Manager Alison Haas.

Article Photos

Athletes play pool at the Olympic Village in Ray Brook during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. The village is now a medium-security Federal Correctional Institution.
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum)

"It's called the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution, but back in 1980 it was the athletes' village for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games," Haas said. "In order to build the athletes' village, the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee and the U.S. Department of Justice came together and constructed, with 22 million dollars in federal funds, a temporary home for the athletes for the 1980 Lake Placid games."

The Munich massacre during the 1972 Olympic Summer Games gave Olympic organizers a new mandate to protect athletes better in the future.

"There was the thought behind building the athletes' village for 1980 that they needed to be as secure as possible and as safe as possible for the athletes but still have a friendly campus-like setting that athletes from around the world could come together," Haas said.

Therefore, the federal government used a design from the medium-security correctional institution in Memphis, Tennessee, as a template for the Ray Brook facility.

"You can see here in our exhibit the original blueprints," Haas said. "You can see the lounge areas, where the athletes stayed in their separate buildings. There's also this one area that had a discotheque and a game room. There's a theater and the exercise room. You can also see the dining area."

In addition to the blueprints, the museum also displays a site map of the Olympic village that was distributed to the athletes in 1980 in their handbook.

"It shows them exactly where the recreation center was, the residence buildings, security, food," Haas said. "There was even a shopping center."

Over the years, the use of the buildings has changed dramatically. For example, the dining facility in 1980 is now being used by Federal Prison Industries, Inc. to make UNICOR products.

"That serves as the main work-service program where the inmates receive vocational training," Haas said. "You can see here in this display case one of the textiles. This is a gear bag that the inmates have produced for the private sector. So they make textiles, jackets, bags, etc."

To the left of the gear bag is a uniform used by members of the U.S. bobsled team. To the right is a uniform used by an inmate.

"This is a blue USA Levi's uniform that many of the athletes wore in 1980," Haas said. "But now you might see this uniform in the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, which is just this tan/beige color."

There are a number of photos showing what the facilities looked like in 1980, including a dining room table. Many of those tables were distributed to local schools after the Olympics to be used in lunch rooms such as the one at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake.

"Sometimes you can even find those on eBay today," Haas said.

The exhibit also features photos of Olympic athletes relaxing in the game room.

"They are playing Space Invaders," Haas said. "There's foosball with Roni Raccoon, the official Olympic mascot playing against someone from the U.S. Ski Team. And in this photo, there's the billiards table with the 13th Winter Olympic Games Lake Placid logo right on there. It would be really cool if we could find one of those billiards tables. I don't even know where we would store it, but it might be nice to just see it, to have it, for the temporary display of this exhibit."

There is a lot of memorabilia for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in the public domain, and there may also be a lot of these official artifacts, such as the billiards table, in people's homes, possibly in their man caves. Haas pointed to a game table in the exhibit.

"This came from someone's man cave, if that's what you want to call it, or maybe their attic," Haas said. "This was one of the original game tables that was a checker board or a chess board or for playing cards, and these were in all of the lounges where the athletes stayed."

The exhibit details some of the entertainment for the athletes, including movies and concerts.

"There were all these social programs that were provided for the athletes," Haas said. "At the Olympic Village, there was a theater. Doors opened nightly so the residents could enjoy top-quality entertainment with celebrity acts and variety shows. There was also the discotheque, and Miss Dionne Warwick actually performed at the athletes' village, five-time Grammy Award winner."

The purpose of the "Olympic Prison" exhibit is to answer the question posed on a daily basis by museum visitors: "Where did the athletes stay during the 1980 Olympics?"

"This has a lot to do with our sports heritage in general," Haas said. "And with this exhibit, we're now giving that information to our visitors so it's very clear what it is today. We're surprised to also find out that several people who live in this area don't even know that as well."

Before the "Olympic Prison" exhibit was installed, the museum staff used humor to answer the question, "How can I see the Olympic Village today?"

"We would say that in order to visit that Olympic athletes' village, you would have to commit a federal crime, such as fraud, embezzlement, drug trafficking, smuggling, maybe a act of terror," Haas said.



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