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UP CLOSE: Golden moments

1980 Winter Olympic legends among gold medalists returning to Lake Placid for Winterfest

March 2, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Olympic figure skaters Sasha Cohen, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were the first to enter the Hershey's Winterfest social media truck Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Olympic Speedskating Oval, where they greeted fans and longtime followers of skating and ice dancing.

It was then that an unprecedented level of Lake Placid and Olympic fanaticism revealed itself.

Pat Lancour of Essex Junction, Vermont, came bearing gifts of pins and trading cards for the three athletes. He was one of the few people who got to pose for a photo with his heroes. As the three skaters left, 1980 Olympic hockey team goalie Jim Craig and speedskater Eric Heiden entered the truck. The line of adoring fans grew larger, and people were limited to only one autograph and candid photos in order to keep the line moving.

Article Photos

U.S. hockey goalie Jim Craig, left, and speedskater Eric Heiden, both gold medalists during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, are thrilled to see a fan’s photo taken during the Feb. 22, 1980 Miracle on Ice game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union Saturday, Feb. 24 during the Team USA Winterfest at the Olympic Speedskating Oval. The hockey team went on to win the gold medal in a match with Finland, and Heiden won five gold medals during the games.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Hockey pucks, photos, ice skates and a Team USA throw rug were among the items on which the Olympians signed their autographs. One person even had an Eric Heiden action figure from Starting Lineup's 1998 Timeless Legends series. Still in its box, the toy and its package seemed to be in mint condition without any fading or corner tears.

Feb. 24 was a special day for Lake Placid. In addition to it being the 38th anniversary of the U.S. hockey team's gold-medal win over Finland at the 1980 games, this year six Olympians - Eric Heiden, Jim Craig, Sasha Cohen, bobsledder Vonetta Flowers and ice dancing pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White - visited the Oval as part of the Team USA Winterfest tour, a 13-event festival celebrating the Winter Olympics. It was the last stop on the tour, which began Nov. 1 in New York City, 100 days before the start of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which wrapped up Sunday, Feb. 25.

Even though the weather was dreary with overcast skies, scattered flurries of sleet and mud that caked people's boots and pants, none of that mattered. It wasn't enough to hinder the "Olympic Spirit," that everybody in Lake Placid refers to so often.


Eric Heiden

That afternoon marked Heiden's first time back in Lake Placid since the 1980 Olympics. He marked the occasion with a lap around the Oval as people clapped and cheered. As to why he hasn't returned since the 1980 games, Heiden said Lake Placid is just a hard place to get to, and that his careers in cycling and orthopedic surgery kept him busy. Dr. Heiden is the knee, shoulder and sports medicine specialist at Heiden Orthopedics, based in Utah.

This year, the Winter Olympics introduced the mass start event, a race where up to 28 speedskaters take to the ice at one time. 2018 Pyeongchang Olympian Joey Mantia once described is as "NASCAR on ice" to NBC. After 38 years, Heiden said he's enjoyed seeing the advancements in his sport.

"It's been fun to watch the development of speedskating over the last couple of decades," Heiden said. "They've gotten indoor facilities, which make the events very even. Everybody's go the same conditions. They're making it a little more interesting for the average person, who probably doesn't really understand the sport, with the mass start."

Heiden also has connection to this year's Olympics. His niece, Joanne Firesteel Reid, competed in the biathlon. She is the daughter of Eric's sister, Beth (Heiden) Reid, who won a bronze medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Most skaters tend to wear suits that depict their national colors or symbols. In 1980, Heiden wore a gold suit along with a matching pair of gold skates, and in all honesty, he doesn't exactly know why his coaches chose that gear for him -possibly an indication of things to come.

"I think they thought it would give me some type of psychological advantage," Heiden said.

Over by the skate rental hut, there's a cutout of Heiden skating in his gold uniform in which people can stick their faces and pose for photos. He thinks it's a little weird but also pretty funny, and he even stuck his face in the hole for a photo or two.


Davis and White

At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were the first U.S. ice dancing team to win Olympic gold medals. They essentially retired from the competitive realm after that win, but they still perform in shows such as Stars on Ice, which has a long history at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.

"We achieved everything we wanted to do," White said. "You need that feeling of want if you're going to continue to compete."

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled "Ice Dancing Has a Problem: Not Enough Men." Davis thinks the lack of male partners is nothing new to the sport, but she stays hopeful for the future.

"In the world of ice dance," Davis said, "there are certainly more women than men in the sport, so if you're a female athlete in ice dance looking for a partner, it can be a real challenge. I don't know if it's become more difficult, but it's something that's always been a challenge."

White added that he thinks the idea of males participating in a creative sport is often misguided.

"I think as time goes on and we continue to evolve," White said, "a lot more respect is given in that regard. It's about getting that information out there and showing the success stories. I try to be representative of that, and there are a lot of great guys in the sport. Moving forward, I think it will be easier and easier for guys and girls to find partners."


Jim Craig

Even for people who don't pay attention to hockey, most Americans know about the Team USA's upset over the Soviet Union in what is famously known as the Miracle on Ice. Jim Craig was the goalie who played throughout the 1980 Olympics, including that game.

A major similarity between the 2018 and the 1980 games in terms of hockey is that the U.S. teams weren't made up of NHL players but rather college students and amateur players. Craig said he loves the idea of going back to the old ways and allowing unestablished athletes an opportunity to reach their goals.

Though the men's team was knocked out of the medal bracket this year, America's women's team beat Canada for the gold. The U.S. women's team first won gold with a win over Canada during the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Since then, they've won silver in 2002, 2010 and 2014 and bronze in 2006.

"I think even after our win," Craig said, "women's hockey really took off. Canada has won a lot, but I don't think they dominated. I think every year either team could've won. It's just that Canada knew how to win better, so I wasn't surprised the [U.S. women] won this year."


Reflecting on 38 years

Lake Placid native Jon Lundin is the communications director for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. He recalls standing by the flag poles at the edge of the skating Oval and watching Heiden win his five gold medals. He remembers being 13 years old and shaking hands with Craig as he stood in line to receive his gold medal.

"For me it's just great memories," Lundin said. "The games were over 38 years ago, but to me, it's as if they were yesterday."



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