OLYMPIC LEGACY: Stepping stone to the Olympics
College Week prepared Lake Placid for organizing, hosting Olympic-style games
(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 — Two-time North American speedskating champion Jack Shea came home for the holidays in 1931, on break from his sophomore year at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
But a “holiday break” in Shea’s world at that time didn’t equate to rest and relaxation. It meant more skating, competition and doing what he could to earn a spot on the U.S. speedskating team for the III Olympic Winter Games in February 1932 in his hometown.
Shea was one of 50 athletes from 14 colleges to take part in the Lake Placid Club’s 11th annual College Week competitions in 1931, held between Christmas and New Year’s Day. His win in the 440-yard and 2-mile skating races wasn’t enough for Dartmouth to capture the Harding Trophy, which went to the University of New Hampshire.
The trophy — donated in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding to the Lake Placid Club for its first international college winter sports games — went to the “best balanced” winter sports team from the U.S. and Canada.
The competition was close in 1931, according to the Jan. 8, 1932 issue of the Lake Placid News.
“On the eve of the ski jump, which was the last of 8 events contested on skis, skates and snowshoes,” the News reported, “Dartmouth was leading … with New Hampshire crowding on her heels … and McGill next in line.”
Edward Blood’s victory at the ski jump clinched the Harding Trophy for the University of New Hampshire and the Marshal Foch trophy for ski jumping.
Blood was named to the 1932 U.S. Olympic ski team and competed in the Nordic combined event, placing 14th, and he took 37th place in the same event during the IV Olympic Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1936. Blood then spent 30 years as the ski coach at the University of New Hampshire and was named to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1967.
“Always one to promote skiing when given the opportunity, he tried to sell it as it is: a clean, refreshing, interesting sport, instilling the Olympic ideal of the importance of participation in sport,” his Hall of Fame description states. “Ed became involved in the Olympic movement in 1960 as a designer and worker on the cross-country courses at McKinney Squaw Valley Olympics and served as the Chief of Start and Finish at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.”
Shea was eventually named to the 1932 U.S. Olympic speedskating team. He recited the athlete’s oath during the opening ceremony and won gold medals in the 500- and 1,500-meter races. He is a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum Hall of Fame and U.S. Speedskating Hall of Fame.
Shea and Blood returned to the Lake Placid Club to compete for their schools in the 1932 College Week games. Two members of the 1932 Canadian Olympic ski team were there as well, William “Bud” Clark of St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa and John Currie of the University of Ottawa. Clark is a member of the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.
Shea and Blood were active in representing collegiate athletes. In early 1933, Shea was named president of the Intercollegiate Winter Sports Union for the coming year, succeeding Blood (March 3, 1933, LPN). Representing 25 universities in the U.S. and Canada, the union was founded in 1924 “for the purpose of promoting competition in winter sports among colleges.”
That’s similar to the goal of the Lake Placid Club’s Sno Birds organization when it created College Week shortly after its founding in 1921. The first “College Week” was actually “College Day” on Dec. 31, 1921, according to the Jan. 6, 1922 issue of the Lake Placid News.
There were five events: a 4-mile cross-country ski race; quarter-mile and 1-mile speedskating races; 100-yard ski dash; and a 440-yard speedskating exhibition by the Lake Placid Skating Association’s Charles Jewtraw, who completed it in 41 seconds.
Dartmouth won the 1921 Harding Trophy with 24 points, followed by Holy Cross (6), Yale (3), Princeton (2) and Union (1).
The following year, College Day became College Week, and the ski jumping competition at Intervales on Dec. 30 was promoted as the top event.
“The Intercollegiate Jump promises to become one of the winter sports classics of the world,” stated the Dec. 22, 1922 issue of the News. “Correspondence with forty American and Canadian colleges in preparation for College Week and the various competitions shows that the Sno Birds events are exerting a powerful influence leading many institutions to plan better for winter sports.”
College Week attracted top winter sports athletes from U.S. and Canadian universities to compete in Lake Placid from 1921 until the event was discontinued in 1950. Interest in College Week fell off during the first year of the Korean War. Ski events in cross-country, downhill, slalom and jumping were planned for Dec. 30-31, 1950, and Jan. 1, 1951.
“A spokesman for the Club said that ‘while it is not known to what extent the present war situation and the workings of Selective Service accounted for the lack of acceptances, at least one large university, which has always entered a team in the meet, gave this as a reason for being unable to compete,'” the News reported on Dec. 15, 1950.
The Sno Birds still held a ski jumping competition on the 70-meter Olympic Hill at Intervales on New Year’s Day 1951, but Lake Placid’s first era in hosting international collegiate winter sports games was over.
From the early 20th century, sports competition at the university level was a stepping stone — a jumping-off point — for athletes around the world to get to the pinnacle of their performance. In many cases, that’s the Olympics, summer or winter. The Lake Placid Club may not have had a pivotal role for athletes in that stepping-stone process with College Week, but it certainly played a part, as evidence from the 1932 Winter Olympics confirms.
Beyond the athlete, however, College Week helped establish the tradition of organizing international multi-sport events in Lake Placid. Lake Placid Club officials were involved in bidding on and planning for the 1932 Winter Olympics; its vice president, Godfrey Dewey, was the president of the III Olympic Winter Games Committee.
We saw a continuation of this legacy when Lake Placid hosted the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Winter World University Games in 1972, and we see it today as the Adirondack Sports Council organizes the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games.