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OLYMPIC MUSEUM: A brief history of a long affair

July 19, 2013
By Susanna Fout of the Olympic Museum

Those of us who call Lake Placid home are surely aware of our town's long standing relationship with figure skating. Since the turn of the century, when visitors to the Lake Placid Club learned how to skate on the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and the Sno Birds sponsored "fancy" skating competitions on flooded tennis courts, Lake Placid has been a Mecca for figure-skaters. The III Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid in 1932 helped to popularize winter sports in America by shining the spotlight on winter athletes. And no other athlete garnered such a flurry of media attention as the young Norwegian skater, Sonja Henie.

Only 11 years old when she competed in her first Olympics in 1924, Henie came to the 1932 games a seasoned veteran. Competing for her second gold medal, Henie's popularity already preceded her. Her style was unique, her costumes scandalous and her talent unmatched. She incorporated dance moves into her routines and wore short, form fitting dresses. She was a star, and the public loved her.

Sonja Henie drew in the crowds and the newly built Olympic Arena kept them there. For the first time in Olympic history, figure-skating competitions could be held on an indoor rink which was not susceptible to temperamental changes in weather. More importantly, spectators could observe the events in the comfort of an enclosed arena. Figure-skating drew in crowds to the Olympic Arena by the thousands and every inch of available space was filled. The Arena was a state-of-the-art facility which boasted one of the largest indoor skating rinks in the world. More importantly, it allowed for skating year round.

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Lake Placid came to the forefront as a world-class training facility largely due to summer skating programs. These training camps were the first of their kind and led by one of the world's best known skating coaches, Gustave Lussi. Lussi was a Swiss skier who turned to competitive figure-skating after suffering an accident. He became determined to train world champions, even if he could no longer be one himself. By the time he settled in Lake Placid, a brand new arena was at his disposal. His concepts of skating and approach to coaching trained some of the best skaters in America such as Dick Button, Barbara Anne Scott, David and Hayes Jenkins and Dorothy Hamill. Skaters from around the country flocked to Lake Placid to learn from Lussi and other elite coaches.

There was an element of flare to the summer skating programs as well. For two months out of the year, it was decided that the Olympic Arena would become the stage for some of the most elaborate ice shows ever produced. These spectacular shows featured painted ice, elaborate sets, lavish costumes, and casts which included the best amateur skaters in North America and Britain. These shows were a pre-courser to the now famous traveling ice shows such as "Ice Capades," "Disney on Ice," and "Stars on Ice."

The elaborate shows, elite training camps and world-class competitions carried Lake Placid through the golden age of figure-skating and into the second half of the twentieth century. Decades of practice as an international sporting community helped to prepare Lake Placid for its second honor as Olympic Host City. The 1980 Winter Olympics once again brought the best skaters in the world to town. Scott Hamilton, who had spent time training and competing in Lake Placid, made his Olympic debut. U.S. champion Linda Fratianne earned her first Olympic silver medal. Both Hamilton and Fratianne would return to Lake Placid during their professional careers. In fact, it is fair to assume that almost every nationally ranked figure skater since 1932 has skated at the Olympic Arena.

To this day, Lake Placid carries on its tradition of summer skating programs and shows and continues to be a hub for skaters worldwide. Skaters young and old can participate in training camps led by some of the best coaches in the country. Performances like "Freaky Fridays" and "Saturday Night Ice Shows" are available throughout the summer and championships held during the spring and summer months still attract the best of the best.

Visitors can also satisfy their love for skating by visiting the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and viewing our extensive collection of figure-skating artifacts. Guests can learn more about the incredible life of Sonja Henie and see an original show costume and headdress. On display are items from Gus Lussi, his star pupil Dick Button, a two time Olympic Champion and the dress Linda Fratianne wore during her medal winning performance in 1980.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday.

For more information about the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, see our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/lake.placid.olympic.museum.

 
 

 

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