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Hosting the 1980 Olympic Winter Games

February 12, 2015
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

(Editor's note: This is a sample of the Feb. 9 conversation Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn had with Denny Allen at the Olympic Center with Lake Placid Olympic Museum Manager Alison Haas. He spoke about his experiences during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.)

Name: Denny Allen

City of residence: Lake Placid

Article Photos

Denny Allen
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Job: Olympic Center general manager

Age: 60

FLYNN: What were you doing before the Olympics?

ALLEN: I went to high school here. I went away to school at St. Lawrence. I graduated from St. Lawrence, came back and worked as a carpenter at the federal prison when it was being built. And halfway through that job, I was given an opportunity to work for Ray Pratt in the sports department of the Olympics, and I was administrative assistant in charge of ice events.

FLYNN: What did you do to help prepare for the Olympics?

ALLEN: As administrative assistant for all the ice sports, I took care of all the little details. For instance, making sure there were enough hockey pucks for the event, housing, transportation, who was going where, any minute detail. That was my job.

FLYNN: When were you hired for that?

ALLEN: It was the fall of '78.

FLYNN: What exactly did you do during the Olympics?

ALLEN: During the Olympics, I was the manager of the speedskating oval. I represented the organizing committee's interests in what was going on at the oval. The schedule was pretty much set. We just had to make sure things went right in the area of the event, the ice, the timing, the locker rooms, that type of thing.

FLYNN: Specifically, what would you have to do?

ALLEN: Make sure the venue opened on time, all the teams got what they needed for practice, practice ice, make sure the ice was good, deal with any problems they had, the pre-games along with the games, just detail-oriented stuff. I wasn't really involved too much with the spectator end of things. I was more involved in the field of play.

FLYNN: During an event, what would you be doing?

ALLEN: During an event, it would mostly be the ice, making sure the ice was made on time. If it was snowing, we'd have to keep the track cleaned.

HAAS: Was there anything that happened during one of the events that you had to make a quick repair to the ice?

ALLEN: No, we were pretty lucky as I remember. I think one day it snowed fairly hard, but once the race started, they wouldn't really let you fool with the track because it might give somebody an advantage.

The one thing I do remember, I think Eric Heiden had won four gold medals, and I think the last race was maybe the 10,000 meter. It was the longest race. And in that corner by the town hall on one of his laps, he almost fell. I mean, you could hear, there's so much tension - was he gonna do this, was he gonna get five gold medals - and he just somehow caught an edge and slipped a little. And the place just gasped. But he, being the athlete he was, he didn't even miss a beat, but everybody else's heart stopped. But he just motored through it.

There was no real rain or drastic changes in the weather.

FLYNN: At that gasp moment, what was going through your mind?

ALLEN: I was panicking, because I knew what was at stake. It was just a nanosecond. I mean if you weren't watching and you weren't right there looking at him, you wouldn't have noticed it. But those people in that corner in front of the town hall certainly noticed it, and I'm sure he remembers it.

FLYNN: At that venue, what was the highlight during the Olympics?

ALLEN: I think the highlight was Eric Heiden. ... You won't ever see that again because there are so many specialists. He raced every race, and he won every race. You won't find that today or in the future, I don't think. He's just a dynamic guy. He would hang out in the zamboni garage rather than hang out in the locker room area. He was very much to himself and kept very quiet. He was focused, let's say.

FLYNN: Did you have any interaction with him?

ALLEN: To say hello and stuff, nothing too fancy.

FLYNN: Your work day during the Olympics, what was it like?

ALLEN: It started like at 4 in the morning, and this guy Nick ... every day he brought in this schnapps and like at 4 in the morning we'd have to have a drink of that before we started work. And this stuff was like lighter fluid, and that got your day going. It usually went until probably 9-10 at night.

FLYNN: Aside from your work day, what was life like for you?

ALLEN: It was pretty much just work. My wife and I, we got moved out of the apartment we were in, and we stayed with some friends near the oval on McLenathen Avenue or somewhere, an apartment down there, so it was pretty easy for me. I could walk back and forth to work. You know, but you had to plan ahead, you know, with your grocery shopping, that type of stuff.

Traveling, I had all kinds of passes that I could go anywhere, but it was such a hassle. I can remember I went to the opening ceremonies, and I drove down and I ended up coming back with a pickup truck filled with people. Literally 25 people in the back of the pickup because they couldn't get a ride. You had to plan ahead, any movement you made, any shopping you wanted to do, you had to be aware because it was hard to move around just to do your day-to-day stuff.

FLYNN: How did the 1980 games change your life?

ALLEN: It opened up a lot of friendships. It opened up a whole different world to me. Prior to that, the Olympics was something you saw on TV. You didn't realize quite the amount of work that went into that. And it gave me a wordly view that I didn't have before that of a lot of things, of politics, of people. This Olympics was a melting pot, and I think it exposed a lot of people to a lot of people from different walks of life, with different interests, and it was a growing experience for sure.

(The "Welcome World" oral history project is a partnership with the Lake Placid News, Lake Placid Olympic Museum and Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.)



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