Lake Placid: History of the Winter Olympics

Photo courtesy of AP via ABC News

Once every four years, people across the globe come together in shared excitement about the Winter Olympics. This major international event involves multiple snow and ice sports competing for the most prestigious sporting medals in the world. Inspired by the ancient Olympic games  held in Olympia, Greece, the modern games began in the late 1800s and have been thriving ever since. But the Winter Olympics began slightly later. In Chamonix, France, the first ever Winter Olympics were held in 1924, featuring nine categories of sports including cross-country skiing, curling, and bobsleighing. Since its inception, 12 countries on three continents have hosted the Winter Olympics. This year, the world is gearing up for Beijing, China’s hosting in February 2022. 

Of all the cities that have historically hosted the Winter Olympics, only three have hosted twice. Besides St. Morris and Innsbruck, the third is Lake Placid. This village nestled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains is home to a gorgeous lake by the same name. Today, we’re delving into Lake Placid’s history with the Winter Olympics, and why this lake area deserved two spots in the games’ history.

Lake Placid: Winter Olympics 1932

4 Feb 1932: National Delegations parading in the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York State, USA. \ Mandatory Credit: IOC Olympic Museum /Allsport via The Atlantic

For Lake Placid’s first hosting of the Winter Olympics, we have a man named Godfrey Dewy to thank. In 1929, this president of the Lake Placid Organizing committee gave a passionate speech pitching Lake Placid as the Winter Olympics destination. His speech, paired with the area’s reputation as a premier winter sports venue, landed this region the gig. Even in the middle of the Great Depression, this small town of 4,000 people was an excellent site for the games, and Mr. Godfrey donated his family’s plot of land for the bobsleigh track. Not only was the event a success for Lake Placid, but also for the U.S. as a whole. The 1932 Winter Olympic Games marked the first year that the U.S. won the medal tally.

Lake Placid: Winter Olympics 1980

Photo courtesy of STAFF/AFP/Getty Images via Daily News

In 1980, Lake Placid earned its spot as an Olympic destination for the second time. However, unlike the 1932 Olympics, global conflicts and the emergence of television made it more difficult for this small, upstate town to host such a major event. With even more attendees to the event and a wider audience through T.V., transportation was inadequate to meet these demands. In terms of global politics, it was also the height of the Cold War and the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. However, despite these constraints and setbacks, the Winter Olympics in 1980 were ultimately a success at Lake Placid. The U.S. ice hockey team won against the Soviet team which had previously dominated the olympic scene. Additionally, U.S. speed skater Eric Heiden won the gold for five consecutive races, setting an Olympic world record.

Will Lake Placid Host Again?

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Lake Placid has already established its Winter Olympic legacy as the destination for the 1932 and 1980 games. However, its hosting history may not be over. Lake Placid is home to several original venues including the Olympic Sports Complex, Whiteface Mountain, and the Olympic Center. Although its small size might be a hindrance to the future Olympic games, those advocating for Lake Placid’s hosting in 2026 suggest partnering with other areas in the region to accommodate more guests and more resources for athletes. So, it’s safe to say that this may not be the end of Lake Placid’s Winter Olympics career! 

At Lake Placid, its history in the Winter Olympics is only one interesting aspect of this beautiful upstate lake region. To learn more about what makes Lake Placid special, check out our listings in the area at!

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