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OLYMPIC HISTORY: Archive discovery

October 17, 2014
By SUSANNA FOUT , Lake Placid News

While the rest of the world straps on their lederhosen to celebrate Oktoberfest and all things German, we here at the museum are celebrating National Archives Month, served up with a little less beer and a little more history. During the month of October, museums, libraries and cultural centers around the nation will organize programs that raise awareness of this little known profession and will highlight special collections and archives which demonstrate the importance of preserving our cultural heritage.

Whether you know it or not, you probably have a set of archives in your own home. That filing cabinet of official documents in your study or the box of family photographs in your attic are examples of personal archives and provide vital and unique information about your life or the history of your family. Those records are just as important to your community, state or country, as they are to you. Even if members of your family have not attained any degree of fame, they have contributed to the heritage of a certain place and time and are a part of your community's collective memory. Simply put, an archives is a repository for historically significant records that are made available for current and future research. These records can take the form of correspondence, diaries, financial and legal documents, photographs, video or sound recordings, electronic records and other primary resources.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum holds an extensive archives collection that documents Lake Placid's rich winter sports history. Whether it is the official documents of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, personal papers and letters of local athletes, or photographs recording the early history of the Olympic region, these records are vital to the story of our community on a local and national level. The museum often works with students, academics and community members who wish to utilize our collection for research purposes. Our goal is to help people find and understand the information they need and as a result some amazing discoveries have been made.

Article Photos

U.S. speedskater Jack Shea receives a gold during the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid.
(Photo provided)

Dr. Robert K. Barney, professor at the University of Western Ontario, is an expert on the history of the modern Olympic Games. Several years ago, Dr. Barney wrote an interesting article on the origins of the winner's podium which made its debut at the III Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. According to a letter Barney found in the museum archives, written in May of 1931, Count Baillet-Latour, president of the International Olympic Committee, wrote to Ernest Gamache, secretary of the III Olympic Winter Games Committee, with new instructions on how to award prizes:

"The three winners will have to take [their] place on three pedestalswhich will be placed in front of the presidential box. The prizes will be given by myself or substitute."

Records show that without further instruction from Baillet-Latour, Gamache set about constructing his version of a "three pedestal" platform. According to Barney's findings, almost a year after the letter was written, "as winner of the 500 meter speed skating event, Jack Shea became the first athlete in Olympic history to receive his gold medal atop what Olympic protocol now defines as the victory podium." Photographs found in the museum's archives show Shea standing on a tall, center tier and next to him, standing on lower levels are silver medalist Brendt Evenson and bronze medalist Alexander Hurd. It was here in Lake Placid in 1932, that an Olympic tradition was born.

The debut of the victory podium at Lake Placid is a narrative known by most Olympic historians. However, until Dr. Barney's research, none have been able to present evidence of its creation; much less what prompted its inspiration. Using some carefully preserved archives and a little detective work, Robert Barney was able show the development of a custom which has since become a centerpiece for all Olympic celebrations. Today, the use of a three-tiered podium is used in many athletic ceremonies and the verb "to podium" is commonplace in an athlete's vocabulary. As Dr. Barney states, "It is more than act. It is also the universal dream of athletes, Olympic and non-Olympic alike".

"A Research Note on the Origins of the Olympic Podium" by Dr. Robert K. Barney was presented at the Fourth International Symposium for Olympic Research.

If you would like to learn more about our research facilities, please visit our website at or contact the museum directly to make an appointment.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.



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