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ON THE SCENE: Re-lighting the Olympic cauldron

February 16, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Thirty-eight years ago, Lake Placid lit the cauldron opening the XIII Olympic Winter Games. On the evening of Friday, Feb. 9, it was re-lit as a means of connecting us to the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and celebrating the Olympic spirit that remains alive and well in the Tri-Lakes region.

On Sunday, Feb. 11, Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake placed an exclamation point to our community's ongoing connection to the games with our nation's first-ever silver medal in men's single luge.

I remember asking my grandmother Climena what she remembered about the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake?Placid, an event that inspired her to winterize the Mirror Lake Inn, enabling it to host the Norwegian and I believe the British Olympic delegations.

Article Photos

Billy Whitney holds a torch after the 1980 Olympic cauldron re-lighting ceremony at the North Elba Showgrounds in Lake Placid. Second from right is Darci LaFave, who carried the torch part of the way from the ski jumps. They are joined by friends and family.
(Photo provided — Naj Wikoff)

She said three things. They opened on time, she was amazed by how quickly the time went by in contrast to the big effort it took to get ready, and how some people would come for breakfast and not relinquish their table as a means of insuring they had a place to eat lunch and dinner. What they would do is invite a steady stream of friends and family to take their place once they finished their meal. Eventually, she had to close the dining room between meals to break the pattern.

Standing out in the cold on Feb. 9 at the North Elba Showgrounds reminded me of attending the 1980 opening ceremony. I was seated high up the bleachers to the right of center surrounded by a pack of people that seemed to be all bundled up either in fur or down coats. As a consequence, I was quite warm. I remember the uplifting opening remarks from the Rev. J. Bernard Fell, president of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee.

"Welcome, World. We're ready," he said.

Fell went on to say, "Friendly people still live here, work here and wait to greet you. We've worked hard, and we've accomplished what we set out to do, to bring you and the world an Olympics in perspective. The late Ron MacKenzie, who did so much to bring these games back to Lake Placid, explained it in this way: 'Our feeling is that the Winter Olympic Games should revert to what they once were, a contest among athletes, and we felt a small village like ours could provide a better setting than anyplace else in the world.'"

He concluded by saying that he hoped that these athletes striving for excellence through friendly completion could be an inspiration for all. His remarks were rebroadcast at the start of the Feb. 9 re-lighting ceremony and greeted once again by applause by the many who came to witness this event, which was well emceed by Lake Placid's Stuart Hemsley.

Linda Friedlander and Birgit Schulte, of Lake Placid, arrived wearing the red hostess uniforms they wore for the 1980 games, during which times they served as translators for visiting dignitaries. Friedlander spent much of her time out at Whiteface Mountain as well as driving the jury to various races while Schulte was the interpreter for the mayor of Innsbruck and his 16-person delegation.

"We think of ourselves as an Olympic town," said Friedlander about the village that's hosted two Winter Olympics and sent athletes to every Winter Olympics since the first games were held in Chamonix, France in 1924. That's when local speedskater Charles Jewtraw won the very first gold medal ever awarded at a Winter Olympics.

"Working as a hostess was a lot of fun and it was nice being part of an international town," Friedlander continued. "What's good about the Olympics is it crosses national boundaries and politics."

"I loved meeting so many people from different countries," said Schulte. "We have a small hotel in Lake Placid and we often invited the athletes to come over for apple strudel and coffee. Especially the bobsledders came over, which included Wolfgang Zimmerer, who won medals in the two previous Olympics."

Teresa Lombardi brought her daughter to Lake Placid to participate in a hockey game against Northwood School, and while in town decided to attend the lighting of the cauldron.

"We heard about it and didn't want to miss it," she said. "This is my first time in Lake Placid. It's such a beautiful place. My daughter will be skating in the 1980 and USA rinks. We are very excited. I think the Olympics is a great time for people to come together and show their good sportsmanship and showcase all the wonderful talents they have."

"My son is a snowboarder, so we come every year," said her sister-in-law Yvette Fiorino, who hails originally from Puerto Rico. "We are so excited that the Olympics were held here and about the history. We are in awe of the rink and the ski jumps being so high."

She and her husband live in Philadelphia and came to Lake Placid shortly after the city's parade and celebration for the Super Bowl-winning Eagles. For them, back-to-back historic events was a thrill.

"The parade was quite an event," said her husband Cosimo. "Philadelphians are very passionate people. We tend to get very excited by such events like the parade and this torch lighting."

The highlight of the event was the bringing of the torch from the ski jumps along state Route 73 and into the horse show grounds and over to the Olympic cauldron. Darci LaFave was given the honor of carrying the torch that from time to time she handed to 10-year-old Jonah Selani, so he could also have the trill and memory of participating. The crowd parted to let her through and to the base of the cauldron.

"It's such an honor carrying the torch and lighting the Olympic torch," said LaFave after the ceremony. "It's incredible to think this happened 38 years ago and that we're repeating it tonight. I was 12 years old back when the Olympics were held here. We lived in Tupper Lake. We got to see all kinds of events, so to be able to be involved here now is quite an honor. I think the Olympic spirit is about community, everyone welcoming, being accepting of, and supporting everyone else."

A big thank you was given to Hurley Brothers for donating 400 gallons of propane making the flame possible, and for all the volunteers who helped organize the event.



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