OLYMPIC LEGACY: Build it, they will come
Lake Placid develops venues for III Olympic Winter Games in 1932
(Editor’s note: This story is part of an “Olympic Legacy” series to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the III Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid in 1932. What happened that year led to this village hosting the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 and the continuing legacy of training Olympic athletes, inspiring future Olympians and hosting international winter sports events.)
LAKE PLACID — In 2021, four-time luge Olympian Cameron “Cammy” Myler was on a mission — to find the right images for three pieces of art. They would be included in the International Olympic Committee’s art show during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Beijing, China, so they had to evoke Olympism in some way.
So Myler decided to come home.
“I started with photos and very intentionally from Lake Placid because for me that’s where everything started,” she said. “I still feel like it’s my spiritual home, maybe after Olympia, but Lake Placid is a close second.”
Now living in New York City, Myler chose three different locations for the photos in the mixed-media pieces “Unite,” “Inspire” and “Believe.”
The first was Mirror Lake for “Unite,” which lists all the Winter Olympic host cities, strung together in the form of a snake, or a dragon, over the snow-covered ice — from Chamonix in 1924 to Beijing in 2022.
The second was a grouping of small hills and Whiteface Mountain, taken from Whiteface Inn Lane for “Inspire.” It lists the names of the Winter Olympic sports, following the lines of the summits.
The third was a snow-covered school field next to the North Elba Show Grounds — the site of the opening ceremony of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
“I attended that (ceremony), and for me that’s where my Olympic journey started. So I really wanted to recognize that in the works that I created,” Myler said.
The cauldron is on the right and Whiteface is on the left — the mountain and sky blanketed by the pink-orange alpenglow at sunset.
“I picked these themes because I’m very much right and left brain all the time,” Myler said, adding that she wanted to start with photography and incorporate some textual elements. “I’m a lawyer, but I’m an artist. I’m an athlete and creative. So I have this need to find some balance between those things.”
The text in “Believe” came from the first fundamental principle of Olympism: “Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
She printed the photos on 30-by-40-inch canvases and then painted with acrylic paints to modify them. There’s also a layer of graphic design on each.
Myler was chosen as one of seven athletes for this year’s Olympian Artists-in-Residence program, sponsored by the IOC’s Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage. The art was commissioned specifically for the Olympic Agora project at the 2022 Beijing Olympics — designed to bring to life “the interconnections between sport and culture, inviting audiences to explore timeless Olympic ideals and the far-reaching cultural and social impact of the Olympic Games.”
The other artists are Christopher Coleman, U.S., bobsled (1992, 1994 Olympics); Neil Eckersley, Great Britain, judo (1984, 1988); Kader Klouchi, Algeria, long jump (1992); Gao Min, diving, China (1988, 1992); Ye Qiaobo, speedskater, China (1992, 1994); and Laurenne Ross, U.S., Alpine skiing (2014, 2018).
Their artwork can be seen online at https://olympics.com/ioc/the-olympic-foundation-for-culture-and-heritage/arts-and-culture/olympic-agora.
Introduction to luge
Sliding sports run in Myler’s family. Her uncle, Mickey Luce, competed for the U.S. in bobsled during the 1968 Olympic Winter Games at Grenoble, France, and her brother Timothy began luge racing in the late 1970s.
Before the 1980 Winter Olympics, Myler’s father saw an announcement that the U.S. Luge Association was looking for prospects.
“My dad called up my brother, who was in college at SUNY Plattsburgh at the time and said, ‘Hey, you can go to Lake Placid and try this luge thing,'” she said. “Only about a week or so after that, my brother called my father and said, ‘Dad, I’ve dropped out of school for the spring semester and a couple of my buddies and I are going to go to Europe and learn how to do luge.'”
Timothy tried out for the 1980 U.S. luge team and crashed during the trials.
“But my parents had signed up to volunteer by that point,” Myler said.
Her parents — Ann and Skip Myler — volunteered at the newly built luge run at Mount Van Hoevenberg, so she saw Olympic luge in action for the first time. She also got to see the opening ceremony, Eric Heiden win five gold medals in speedskating, one hockey game and figure skating.
In February 1980, Myler was 11 years old, living in Willsboro with her parents. A month later, a development program was held for luge and bobsled, and she was one of almost 300 people to attend.
“I got to experience the magic of being at the Games, so when the opportunity came up to attend a luge camp for two weeks after the Games and skip school, I jumped at that,” Myler said.
By the end of the second week, Myler had won the Junior Olympic races in her age group.
“I really loved luge from the very first time I got on the sled,” Myler said, referring to a story her mother told her later. “She said, ‘After your first run, I asked you if you were OK or scared because you were kind of like humming or singing on the way down. And I apparently told her that I loved it so much that I wanted to keep going.”
Keep going she did. In the 1981-82 sliding season, she was the U.S. women’s youth luge champion. In 1982-83 and 1983-84, she was the U.S. women’s junior luge champion. And in 1984-85, she was promoted to the senior team and was the U.S. senior women’s luge champion.
By the end of 1985, Myler’s family had moved to Lake Placid, she had enrolled in the Mountain House School (name changed to National Sports Academy in 1989) and was the top-ranked women’s luger in the U.S. She graduated from the Mountain House School 1986 as the valedictorian and was accepted into Dartmouth College, where she studied painting.
During her 14 years as a member of the U.S. National Luge Team (1985 to 1998), Myler won the National Championships seven times and 11 World Cup medals, was named U.S. Female Luge Athlete of the Year nine times, and competed in four Olympic Winter Games: Calgary, Canada in 1988; Albertville, France in 1992; Lillehammer, Norway in 1994; and Nagano, Japan in 1998.
The highlight of Myler’s luge career, she said, was being chosen to carry the U.S. flag during the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympics.
“It was like minus 28 degrees that night walking into the opening ceremonies stadium,” she said. “We had UGG boots that year, and I remember they said you shouldn’t wear socks with the UGGs. And I didn’t, and my feet were actually warm the whole time. There was probably a little adrenaline going.”
The Olympic movement has had a profound impact on Myler’s personal and professional lives. She’s been involved in Olympic sport in many ways: as an athlete, as the vice president of USA Luge and a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Board of Directors, and now as an arbitrator, hearing cases before the American Arbitration Association and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She served on the CAS Anti-Doping Division during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Myler has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, a juris doctor degree from Boston College Law School and a master’s degree from Universite catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
In the early 2000s, she moved to New York City, where she practiced law for 10 years, gaining experience representing Olympic athletes, sports organizations and executives in regulatory, eligibility, anti-doping and ethics matters.
In 2011, Myler joined the faculty at New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport, where her teaching and research is focused on legal and governance issues in Olympic and international sport.
She teaches classes such as Sports Law, Sports Legal Issues in Sports, Organizations in Sports and International Sports Governance.
And she can now add Olympian artist-in-residence to that list.
Asked what her life would be like if Lake Placid didn’t host the Winter Olympics in 1980, Myler said, “That’s really difficult to say because Olympic sport has been such a huge part of my entire life, from 11 until now. … I have no idea what my life would be like had I not gotten on a luge sled then.”
Lake Placid could not have hosted the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 if it hadn’t first hosted the III Olympic Winter Games in 1932. Between April 10, 1929 — the day the IOC named Lake Placid to host its first Olympics — and Feb. 4, 1932 — the opening ceremony of those Games — this tiny Adirondack village had a lot of work to do.
Soon after Lake Placid Club Vice President Godfrey Dewey came home from presenting the bid to the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, he announced a two-word phrase that became the slogan for the community: “Let’s go!”
A preliminary Olympic committee was formed from the seven leading civic groups, according to the official report of the 1932 Winter Olympics: Dewey, representing the Club; Judge Thomas Leahy, president of the chamber of commerce; Willis Wells, North Elba town supervisor; Howard Weaver, president of the Lake Placid school board; Martin Ryan, Lake Placid village mayor; John White, president of the Lake Placid Kiwanis Club; and William O’Hare, president of the Lake Placid Athletic Club. Dewey would become president of the III Olympic Winter Games Committee.
Raising the money to pay for the Olympics was a challenge. Foreseeing this need during the bid-writing process, the North Elba Town Board created the North Elba Park District in the spring of 1928. It’s a special taxing district to fund parks, playgrounds and other sports facilities, and town leaders said it would be needed to help finance the building of Olympic venues.
In a special election on June 4, 1929, park district voters approved a $200,000 bond issue “for lands and equipment for public parks and play grounds in the Public Parks and Play Grounds District.” It was the first step taxpayers took to finance the Olympics.
There were plenty of trails in the surrounding woods for the 18k and 50k cross-country races during the 1932 Winter Olympics. As for ski jumping, the Lake Placid Club had upgraded its Intervales facilities in 1927, increasing the jump from 50 to 60 meters. Plans were almost identical to the jump used at St. Moritz for the 1928 Winter Olympics.
The improvements were made well before a 1932 Olympic bid was proposed. The venue had already been used for international competitions, and there was a demand to create a structure and landing hill that would accommodate longer jumps.
“With the increase of winter sports throughout the country and consequent increase in skill, contestants in Lake Placid Club ski jumping competitions are continually straining to the highest record possible on the present Intervales hill,” the LPN reported on Jan. 14, 1927. “The Club is not interested in having a world record set here, but it wishes to provide a hill whereon the most skilful [sic] jumpers who now come may do their best.”
On May 6, 1929, community leaders met at the North Elba Town Hall and decided that the best site for the stadium was in front of the school on Main Street — the site of today’s Olympic Speedskating Oval. The stadium would be used for opening and closing ceremonies, speedskating races, some of the hockey games, and the start and finish of cross-country ski races and dog-sled races (a demonstration sport). At first, this was also to be the site of figure skating competition, but that changed when the arena was later proposed.
“It was planned to utilize space in the high school for dressing-rooms and headquarters for the Olympic athletes, while the principal Olympic executive offices, press rooms, and meeting rooms were to be in the town hall,” stated the 1932 Winter Olympic report.
The bond issue was used to help pay for the stadium and other expenses.
Construction of the stadium began in December 1929. First, a drainage culvert for the Mirror Lake outlet had to be installed, and shortly after New Year’s Day 1930, seven buildings were removed: dwelling houses, a garage and two old hotels.
Excavation work for the stadium began on April 7, 1930, and it was completed that fall. Before the cold weather set in, the 400-meter speedskating track of cinders and gravel was laid out.
Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed a bill on Feb. 21, 1929, allowing the Conservation Commission to construct, equip and maintain a bobsled run.
The biggest question was the run’s location. On April 9, the governor signed another bill authorizing the state to build a bobsled run on state land. But that didn’t sit well with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, which filed a lawsuit saying it was unconstitutional to build the bobsled run on state land.
Article 14 of the New York Constitution — the “Forever Wild” clause — has protected state-owned Forest Preserve since 1894. It states: “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed.”
The May 24, 1929, issue of the Lake Placid News announced that German engineer Stanislaus Zentsytski was hired to supervise the construction of “the largest bobsled run in the world” for the 1932 Games. Two possible locations were named: the western slope of the Sentinel Range on the main highway to Wilmington and the base of Mount Marcy. Later, the Sentinel Range and Scarface Mountain in Ray Brook, both on state land, were favored.
Yet it was up to the courts. The case was argued before the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, in November 1929 (Dec. 6, 1929, LPN). In January 1930, the court found the state’s bobsled run bill unconstitutional (Jan. 17, 1930, LPN), and that decision was confirmed by the Court of Appeals two months later (March 21, 1930, LPN).
Olympic organizers now had to find a site on private land for the bobsled run. Mount Jo was the most-favored site at first, yet at the time, the IOC still wanted Lake Placid to build a separate skeleton run for the Games, and Mount Jo didn’t have enough room for both the bobsled and skeleton runs. Therefore, South Meadow Mountain (later renamed Mount Van Hoevenberg) on Lake Placid Club property was chosen.
In May 1930, the IOC decided that the skeleton run didn’t have to be built for the 1932 Winter Olympics (May 30, 1930, LPN), but South Meadow Mountain had already been chosen for the bobsled run.
In April 1930, the Legislature created the State Olympic Winter Games Commission and appropriated $125,000 for the bobsled run construction, which began that summer.
“The first shovelful of earth was turned on August 4, 1930,” stated the 1932 Winter Olympic report. “On Christmas Day, that same year, the run was opened to the public.”
The previous sliding season, a half-mile bobsled run was built at Intervales — the site of the Olympic ski jump — for training and practice. International bobsled competition was held on that run on Feb. 8, 1930.
Construction of an arena was not listed in the official IOC bid, but after Lake Placid was awarded the Games, it soon became a community dream. Civic boosters promoted the post-Olympic benefits of an arena. Olympic organizers pushed the benefits of having reliable ice for skating and hockey competitions “in the event of a unique and unprecedented thaw such as occurred at St. Moritz during the II O.W.G.,” Dewey stated in a May 1930 report to the IOC (June 20, 1930, LPN).
Dewey said the local Olympic committee was “seeking earnestly to provide” an indoor ice arena with artificial ice.
Funding the arena construction was a major hurdle. The projected cost was $200,000.
On Feb. 14, 1931, Dewey sent a letter to the governor asking for state funding for the arena. Two days later, FDR wrote Dewey a letter denying the request:
“The difficulty in regard to the appropriation is that I regard it as too much money for the State to spend on the Olympic games, especially in this time of depression. Furthermore, it is a highly unwise precedent to set for one week’s official use, the building thereafter to become practically a local structure for local use.”
In a July 30, 1931, special election, North Elba Park District voters approved a bond issue of $150,000 for the arena. But that wasn’t enough. Essex County contributed the remaining $50,000.
The official report of the 1932 Winter Olympics said it cost about $294,000 for the arena’s land and preparation, construction, refrigeration and equipment.
Choosing a site to build the arena also took some time. By January 1931, seven sites had been considered, with the Mirror Lake park — site of the current tennis courts — as the top pick. In April 1931, the current location on Main Street was chosen. The town purchased the land from the Placid Hotel corporation.
Excavation work was completed and foundation work began in August 1931, and the arena was dedicated on Jan. 16, 1932, less than three weeks before the III Olympic Winter Games began. During the Olympics, the arena hosted the figure skating competitions, curling demonstrations and six of the 12 hockey games.