Three reasons why bringing the Olympics back to New York State is a bad idea

Lake Placid bobsled track

Lake Placid still has the facilities from the 1980 Winter Olympics -- and that's great. But it doesn't mean the games should return.

Every now and then the idea of New York State hosting the Olympics pops up. And it's done so again this week, with leaders in the North Country banging the drum about bringing the winter games back and both Chuck Schumer and Elise Stefanik offering generally supportive statements. [Lake Placid News]

This is not a good idea.

Let us turn our attention to the medal stand of reasons why not...

Bronze: The IOC

For whatever reason, global sports organizations often seem to take on the feel of a collection of international not-quite-super villains. It's like a bunch of members of SPECTRE decided to step back from trying to pull all the strings of international crime and have retired to a life of more relaxing bribery and straightforward manipulation. You know, what separates Sepp Blatter -- emperor of FIFA, the world soccer org -- from being a super villain? That he doesn't have a death ray? (That we know of.)

The International Olympic Committee is no different, described as "elitist, domineering and crassly commercial" and including many members with their own checkered histories. If you get into bed with this sort of org, you better be wearing one of those full body condoms.

Pshaw, you might say, compared to the rest of the world the United States is relatively uncorrupt, we can handle this. Yeah... history here would indicate otherwise -- see the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Silver: The scale

The Olympics -- even the Winter Olympics, which are notably smaller than the summer games -- are a huge event. The last three winter games have averaged about 1 million tickets sold.

In contrast, Lake Placid is not a big place. It's actually really small -- with just about 2,500 residents. And neither Lake Placid or the Adirondacks in general have robust transportation infrastructure.

Google Map of Lake Placid, NY

Yeah, but it's already hosted two Olympics, you say. True. But the last one was back in 1980, and the games basically ended up there by default after all the other bidders dropped out. And even on the somewhat smaller scale of the games in that time period, the Lake Placid transportation logistics ended up being a nightmare -- so much so that the governor of New York declared a state of emergency.

Some of these problems could maybe be mitigated by the spreading the games out to other parts of New York, but many of those other places -- like the Catskills -- would have similar problems.

Gold: The cost

Hosting the Olympics is crazy expensive. We'll throw out the $51 billion price tag of the Sochi Olympics -- because Russia -- and go back to the 2010 Vancouver games, which cost an estimated $6.4 billion.

The cost has risen so high that many potential host countries have decided it just simply isn't worth it. The race for the 2022 Winter Olympics is now down to Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan after other countries dropped out over cost. And it's notable that Norway -- which would have been a very strong candidate given its winter sports culture, history of hosting a successful winter Olympics, and its huge pool of oil wealth -- decided the price was too high. (Sweden made a similar decision.)

And even if you can afford to host the games, they're just not a good investment for most countries because the jobs are temporary and it's hard to make back the money on the necessary infrastructure upgrades.

photo: Bennett Campbell


Alas, I think New York and Lake Placid would do well to try to lure the Olympics back. Certainly IOC officials might be more flexible than in the past, maybe their room temperatures could be set to 62 instead of 68 degrees. Thia condition was published after Norway rejected the games. But some of the negatives mentioned could be flipped into positives, after all the 1980 games was seen as a toned down version of previous events. In terms of Olympic infrastructure, Lake Placid has most of it already. A new Olympic village would be required but certainly private developers could fund that and sell it off post games as second homes and affordable housing. More hotels would be required, in Lake Placid and nearby towns, but could be funded by private companies.For other infrastructure, the state could temporarily widen some inbound roads from two lanes to three for a passing lane and maybe four lanes in a few places. After the games, those overly wide shoulders could be turned into bike lanes. Like 1980, buses would transport people to each event but unlike 1980, each bus would have its own temporary bus lane and priority at traffic lights. The rail line into Lake Placid could be upgraded to carry passengers direct from Penn Station to Lake Placid and be retained after the games to promote tourism similar to Vermont's Ethan Allen Express which brings skiers to Rutland.Finally, Lake Placid could build a media center and venue which could be turned into an interactive Olympic museum after the games, similar to the Wild Center and Adirondack Museum. None of that would cost the state a great deal of money and the benefits, reestablishing the Adirondack brand and those infrastructure improvements, would encourage millions more people to visit each year.

Whenever the topic of bringing the Olympics back to Lake Placid is broached, the same thought that was posited in this article occurs to me; that is, the idea that the Games have outgrown places like Lake Placid. Perhaps some events could still be held at the same venues that hosted them before, but others would require alternate arrangements.

For starters, the Winter Olympics currently include five disciplines that were not contested in 1980: curling, freestyle skiing, short track speed skating (as opposed to... regular?... speed skating), skeleton, and snowboarding. Immediately, the need for a half-pipe for some of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events comes to mind, as does the need for a curling venue. (I don't recall offhand if the scheduling would allow for the curling to be held in the speed skating oval.) Skeleton uses the same tracks as bobsled and luge, so that shouldn't be a problem. The short track speed skating tends to be held in the same building as the figure skating, which at Lake Placid was Olympic Center Arena (now called Herb Brooks Arena).

...And that brings us to hockey. The hockey tournament has grown in both size and popularity since 1980. Women's hockey was added in 1998, and many of the bigger games on the men's side (and maybe even the women's side) could probably stand to be held in a larger venue. AFAIK, the closest American arena to Lake Placid that's bigger than Herb Brooks Arena is... the Times Union Center. (I say "American" because Montreal -- and its NHL arena, the Bell Centre -- is closer to Lake Placid than Albany is.) Wouldn't it be awesome to see Olympic hockey being played right in our own backyard?

Bottom line is, if there was sufficient interest (and sufficient funding), Lake Placid could host the Winter Olympics again, especially if the powers-that-be made it a point to stage the Games as a rather stripped-down event compared to recent Olympics. It would be difficult but not impossible, and maybe it would set a precedent for dialing the Olympics down a few notches.

Up north, there's an ongoing tension - between the desire for increased development and the desire to preserve wilderness and natural resources. It's gotten worse, as these small communities see their populations shrink. Hamilton County, for example, is the largest in the state, and it has the oldest population. But wider development endangers the very thing that makes the Adirondacks great. Ultimately, it's a matter of smart growth and concentration.

A large-scale investment in Lake Placid could alleviate the economic hardships in the region, while at the same time concentrating development towards an existing urban area, and away from wilder zones.

It would be a blast to have the Olympics back in the area. The general buzz that would be in the air would be infectious and exciting. However, that rush of excitement would be temporary.

I love that my relationship with the Adirondacks is devoid of politics. My 2+ hour drive is filled with discussion on sights, sounds and smells. My hiking time is not spent thinking about the economic impact of hosting another winter olympics. I'm not lamenting whether any of our tax dollars were invested in the games for infrastructure upgrades as opposed to something I care more about (schools, waterfront redevelopment, etc).

These reasons are entirely selfish, of course. And I'm very naive when it comes to the problems faced by year-round residents in the ADKs. However, I really truly appreciate the simplicity of my relationship to the region and wouldn't want to risk losing that.

Every time I read about the IOC, the host city bid process, or the insane debt each host tends to be left with, I think about the possibility of the Winter Games coming back to Lake Placid (and this is often, as I'm pretty fascinated with the games and the process behind choosing the location). Like you mentioned above, there are a staggering number of reasons why it shouldn't be held in New York again.

But then I think of how cool it must have been to have the Olympics held in our own backyard... and how it sucks that I was -2 years old the last time it was held in Lake Placid (and -50 the time before that)!

Soooo... I'm 49% against the idea of another Lake Placid bid... 51% for it :D

I think I remember something about Buffalo, and Toronto teaming up to co-host the winter Olympics. I'm not sure how far along that proposal ever got.

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