Poster Lake Placid

On this day 84 years ago, the third Winter Olympic Games opened in Lake Placid, New York State. They were the first Winter Olympics to take place outside Europe.


Shortly after 10 o’clock on the morning of February 4 that year, four years of feverish preparations came to an end when New York’s Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the 364 athletes (from 17 nations) who would soon compete in Cross-Country Skiing, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, Speed-Skating, Figure Skating, Ice Hockey and Bobsleigh:

In those days [Ancient Greece] it was the custom every 4 years, no matter 
what war was in progress, to cease all obligations of armies during the 
period of the Games. Can those early Olympic ideals be revived thruout 
[sic] all the world so that we can contribute in a larger measure?
And so we are glad to welcome to this nation, our sister nations, as 
guests of the American people and of the State of New York, and I 
proclaim open the III Olympic Winter Games, celebrating the Xth 
Olympiad of the modern era.” (Official Report p. 180)

In his speech, Roosevelt referred to a number of important aspects associated with the Olympic Games, ancient and modern: a period of concord and suspended warring; athletes from different nations congregating in an urban space to win for their country the rewards for their physical fitness, all embedded in a context of solemn ritual, of which Roosevelt’s opening speech was one part, the subsequent hissing of the Olympic flag another. (Apparently, there was no Olympic flame at this event, although it had been reintroduced in 1928).


Panathinaiko Stadium, Athens.

In Ancient Greece the competition had been between representatives of city-states (often at war) and taken place at sacred Olympia, together with artistic competitions and religious rituals. In 1894, through the effort of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in Paris. They helped organise the first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896) on as yet a modest scale (241 participants from 14 nations). By 1920, demands were made to plan a different event for winter sports, as only figure skating (1908, 1920) and ice hockey (1920) had so far found an occasional entry in the Summer Olympics. In 1924 Chamonix (France) hosted the first officially acknowledged Winter Olympics, which, until 1992, would always be in the same year as the Summer Olympics. Since 1994, the year of the first separate Winter Games, the two Olympic events have been separated by two years. One reason for this is a matter of logistics: the Summer Olympics, in particular, have expanded to involve over 11,000 participants from over 200 nations, which represents an enormous organisational challenge to the host. Meanwhile, other types of Olympic Games have been introduced: the Paralympics (1960) and the Youth Olympic Games (2010). However, most important of all is the question of cost distribution and revenue:

For a city to host the next Olympic Games means more than a challenge and financial burden – it bears the promise of an economic boom, large-scale (temporary) employment, a long-lasting investment in the tourist industry and certainly a change in landscape and infrastructure.

This was the case with Lake Placid, which had only been a summer resort before the III Winter Olympics. With a newly built stadium, ski hill, bob-run and an indoor skating arena where, for the first time in winter-sport history, figure-skating competitions were performed on artificial ice, it was well-equipped to become a famous winter resort as well. In 1980 it hosted the Winter Olympics for a second time, one of only two places (St. Moritz being the other) ever to have done so.

You may find this New York Times article interesting. Details about the organisation and events concerning the III Winter Olympics can be found in the Official Committee Report.

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Source: Official Report