Wyoming’s Olympic torch runner remembers 1980 games
LAKE PLACID – When torch bearer Steve Simon arrived in Lake Placid last week, he realized that the village looked pretty much the same as it had in 1980, when he arrived here prior to the XIII Olympic Winter Games.
“It’s very much the same, which is very gratifying,” he said at the High Peaks Resort on Thursday, Feb. 13 – exactly 40 years after the opening ceremony of the 1980 Winter Olympics. “It looks like Lake Placid has done a really good job of keeping the atmosphere and the feeling of it … For the most part, it seems to have maintained its character.”
Simon, 67, was one of 52 torch bearers who carried the Olympic flame from Yorktown, Virginia, to Lake Placid for the 1980 games. He returned here to lead the torch relay on Friday, Feb. 14 that ended at the opening ceremony for the 40th anniversary celebration.
Simon was 24 years old, a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force serving at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when his roommate saw a small blurb in the local newspaper about the International Olympic Committee looking for runners to carry the torch from Virginia to Lake Placid.
“He said, ‘Hey, they’re looking for torch runners. You should apply,'” Simon said. “And I did.”
During the torch relay for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, the IOC decided that a runner from each state – including an extra runner from Washington, D.C., and a runner from Lake Placid, veterinarian Dr. Robert Lopez – would carry the flame.
“I jokingly say it was like the beauty pageant questions,” he said. “‘How do you fit in the world?’
“The whole idea was to get well-rounded individuals, not necessarily the people who could get the torch here the fastest but who could represent their states and the Olympic committee, as well as themselves.”
Simon was ultimately chosen in April 1979. Although he had been a distance runner already, he had to practice running with a weight in his hand.
In Wyoming, the winters are similar to Lake Placid’s, he said, so he did a lot of running on an indoor 22-lap-per-mile track at the Air Force base, with a weight in his hand.
“I did a lot of really, really small circles with a two-pound weight,” Simon said. “It probably looked strange to anyone who saw me do that.”
The flame was lit in Olympia, Greece on Jan. 30, 1980. A runner carried the torch and presented it to members of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee in Athens, Greece. Carrying the flame in a small miner’s lamp, members of the committee flew out of Athens and brought the Olympic flame to United States soil for the first time in history on Jan. 31.
The committee arrived at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at dawn. George Christian “Chris” Chris Ortloff – the LPOOC’s director of ceremonies and awards – was there to receive the flame. Then Dr. Delbert Warner, of Lake Placid, lit the first torch from the flame, and Suzy Mink, 27, of Roanoke, Virginia, carried the torch the first 2 miles of its 1,000-mile journey. Torchbearers brought the flame through Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Albany, before the route split in two. One group ran west through the heart of the Adirondacks, and the others ran east and up through the Champlain Valley.
Simon, who was 25 when the 1980 torch kicked off, said it was structured so runners would get one day to speak and be out in a community and one day running.
“The whole idea of this torch relay, and probably every torch relay, was to build excitement for the games,” he said. “Once we got into New York, we did a lot of emissary kind of things, where we’re spending time at schools and with civic groups.”
Simon’s favorite stop was Tarrytown, New York, where he had the opportunity to spend a day talking to members of the community.
“We stayed at towns along the way, pretty much wherever they put us up, whether it was a luxury hotel or cots in a gym. We stayed in a monastery,” he said.
The two flames arrived in Lake Placid on Feb. 8, 1980.
Simon said it doesn’t feel like 40 years ago.
The torch relay team still stays in touch – they have a newsletter they circulate among themselves, he said.
“Just a lot of great memories that are still so vivid, even though it’s been 40 years.”