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Jack, Marina LaDuke recall their role in the 1980 Olympics

Marina and Jack LaDuke, of Saranac Lake, pose outside the Adirondack Daily Enterprise office on Thursday, Feb. 13. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID – Every time the U.S. hockey team scored a goal over the Soviets Feb. 22 during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, a cowbell was rung outside the door of the Russian News Agency TASS.

Students were dismissed from school during the games, and the Lake Placid Middle-High School was converted into press headquarters. As the audio-visual director for the games, Saranac Lake resident Jack LaDuke and his wife Marina spent most of their time there.

They watched the historic “Miracle on Ice” game from across the street, holed up in a press office with a closed-circuit television.

“During the last game with the Russians, TASS was just down the hall from us,” Marina said. “Every time the Americans scored a goal, we had a cowbell. We’d run down the hall and ring it in front of their door.”

As the minutes ticked by, and the U.S. inched closer to victory, the mood inside the press center shifted.

“After a while, they locked their door so we wouldn’t bother them anymore,” Marina said.

“After the U.S. won the hockey game over Russia, all the (news) agencies went knocking on their door to get a comment from them,” Jack added. “That was a ‘no comment’ time.”

Marina remembers the aftermath of that win, watching the crowds of fans burst out of the arena and onto Main Street.

“They’re yelling and screaming and dancing, and doing everything,” she said. “Just as they came out, the fireworks on the ice from the awards ceremony – which was on Mirror Lake – burst into the sky. It was just as if it was planned, and it wasn’t planned.”

Main Street was a pedestrian-only thoroughfare during the games. It was jam-packed.

“Everybody was just dancing up and down the street, hugging people you didn’t even know, and yelling and waving the U.S. flag,” she said.

At the time, Marina wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen.

She was born in Scotland and had started her career as a press photographer in Canada, before meeting Jack – a Keeseville native – while skiing at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington.

“I wasn’t an American at the time,” Marina said, “But even I felt like I was.”

The lead-up

Before the world descended upon Lake Placid, the village had already been preparing for the Olympics for more than five years.

As a member of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, and before that as a reporter for a local television station, Jack was there for it all. He remembers Luke Patnode, then head of the local chamber of commerce, raising money and pushing for an Olympic bid for years. And he remembers when, in October 1974, locals learned this village would host a second Olympic games. The first was in 1932.

On Oct. 24, 1974, the Lake Placid Bid Committee presented its bid for the Olympics before the International Olympic Committee in Austria. That committee included 1932 Olympic speedskating gold medalist Jack Shea, who was the town of North Elba supervisor at the time; state Sen. Ronald Stafford, of Peru; and Lake Placid Mayor Robert Peacock.

“When they got the announcement, all of Lake Placid was listening on the radio,” Jack said. “There was no Twitter or iPhones or anything like that.”

The response from the community at the time was mixed, according to a Lake Placid News article at the time. Some residents weren’t happy and believed the village wouldn’t be able to accommodate all the spectators and athletes. Others believed the Olympics would put Lake Placid back on the map and hailed the money that would come for venue improvements.

The response from the national media, according to Jack, was ruthless.

“The press was not happy with the announcement that Lake Placid would be hosting the Olympics. ‘Too small a town, can’t do it. They have no experience doing it.’ They were virtually saying, ‘Bunch of woodchucks up there,'” he said. “The national press was just down on Lake Placid holding the Olympics.”

The tenor of the conversation changed when speedskater Eric Heiden was set up to take home five gold medals for the U.S., he said. And when the U.S. hockey team bested the Soviets, the tide really turned. History had been made.

But before those moments, local people got to work, according to Jack.

“The scramble was on to get money to put the Olympics on,” he said. “Had no money. Thank God it wasn’t as costly as it is today. They didn’t have any money to start off with. So Sen. Stafford went to the governor, Hugh Carey, and got enough money out of Hugh Carey to kick it off and get it going. Then he went to Congressman Bob McEwen of Ogdensburg. I remember making progress films and rushing them down to Washington so they could show them to Congress. Bob came out with enough money to stage the Olympics.”

The decision was made to build the Olympic Village at Ray Brook, with the intention of converting it to a federal prison afterward. To expedite the process of building it, Jack said builders took blueprints of a prison in Tennessee and copied them. The venues were under construction for years.

There was a lot of speculation that Lake Placid wouldn’t be ready in time for the games, according to Marina. So when the Olympics kicked off, blue and white buttons with bold black lettering were handed out.

“WELCOME WORLD,” the button reads. “WE’RE READY!”

Bringing in the torch

Before the Olympic Games began, a delegation from the United States was sent aboard Air Force 2 to Greece, where they picked up the Olympic flame and flew it to American soil for the first time.

Marina, who had just taken a leave of absence from her job at the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid, remembers that journey well.

Air Force 2 landed at what was then the Plattsburgh Air Force Base to pick them up, she said. At one point, they had to stop at an air force base in England to refuel, then they went to Greece – but the plane was expected to land too early. So the pilot was temporarily redirected.

“He said, ‘Would you like to see the Alps?'” Marina said. “So we flew around the Alps.”

The delegation landed and received the Olympic flame, which was enclosed in a miner’s lamp on the flight back to the United States. They landed at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at dawn on Jan. 31, 1980 and proceeded to Washington, D.C.

“President (Jimmy) Carter was not going to come to the Olympics,” Marina said. At the time, Iran was holding hostages at the embassy.

“Mondale was representing the president. Carter invited us all to the Oval Office,” she said. “At the time, I was not an American citizen; I was a British citizen. The Secret Service said, ‘She can’t come.’ So there was some hemming and hawing, and they finally let me come.”

Fifty-two torch bearers – one from each state, one from Lake Placid and another representing Washington, D.C. – brought the Olympic flame from Virginia to Lake Placid. The lighting of the cauldron on Feb. 13, 1980 kicked off the XIII Olympic Winter Games at the North Elba Show Grounds, and that moment is one that Jack pointed to as among the most incredible to witness.

As a member of the local organizing committee, it was also something of a relief. When the games are underway, the IOC takes over.

“Well, this is it. It’s too late now to do anything you hadn’t done. The games are underway,” he said.