Nestled in the Adirondacks, and deep in the American sports psyche, Lake Placid, N.Y., looks much as it did more than 40 years ago.
That is by prideful design.
Although many Olympic cities have allowed their turns on the global stage of sports to ebb into the recesses of record books and YouTube clips, Lake Placid is forever trying to remain one of America’s greatest links — some would say its greatest link — to the Games. It is a place that remains etched plainly into history for the 1932 Games and for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” men’s hockey matchup between the Americans and the Soviets, for Eric Heiden’s hypnotizing, record-setting speedskating races and Hanni Wenzel’s small-nation skiing triumphs.
But a village of about 2,000 can still feel like an Olympic Village, even 42 years after it last hosted the Games, and especially when it is dotted with enough long-ago and present-day athletes to fill rosters. There are museum exhibits and vintage venues, the ski run that always seems in sight and the speedskating oval that went from one generation’s proving ground to this one’s training ground.
Indeed, for all of the disappointments that often surround the Olympic Games — overt commercialism, conspicuous corruption, tepid or invisible responses to political crises — Lake Placid is still seen as a quaint and wholesome wonderland.
“As a town, we still see the Olympics for what its potential is,” said Andrew Weibrecht, who grew up in Lake Placid, won skiing medals at Vancouver and Sochi and became the operations manager at the local Mirror Lake Inn. “The version of the Olympics that we think about up here has more to do with the purity of sport and the raw competition.”
The challenge for Lake Placid is to continue swerving around the fate that has met many places whose biggest athletic glories are very likely in the past. Tens of millions of dollars have poured into the region to keep it a hub of tourism and to help attract more modest sports competitions, like the World University Games, which are planned for Lake Placid next year.
There is no realistic talk of a Lake Placid bid for another Winter Games.
But with the approach of the Beijing Games, and with a patched-together American hockey team that already carries echoes of that fabled 1980 squad, more than a few memories are again drifting upstate, to the place where Olympic passion is at once a relic and a reality.
“Salt Lake City has a lot of things. Atlanta has a lot of things,” Weibrecht said, ticking through other American cities that have hosted the Games but are also known for much more. “We have the Olympics, and we embrace that, and we love that, and that’s a part of every kid that grows up here.”
He added: “You feel a part of that legacy. You feel you were born into something that, even though it happened over 40 years ago, it’s still very apparent.”