On the eve of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, there’s one town in the North Country that gets lots of local attention for its role in a Winter Olympics -- that happened just a few, short 34 years ago!.
And Lake Placid once again takes center stage tonight, with a report on 60 Minutes Sports on the premium cable channel Showtime, where you’ll learn the incredible behind the scenes story of how this small Adirondack village pulled off one of the most successful Winter Games ever.
The report focuses on a group of very hands on civic minded locals – dubbed the North Country Boys, who engineered something that would be almost impossible to do today, according to producer Clem Taylor.
“The North Country Boys were led by Jim Rogers and Sergei Lussi. These were local guys, who were civic boosters, who had businesses. They loved winter sports and were totally dedicated to their community and were determined to bring the games back to their community.
Clem got the idea for the story after vacationing there last summer, with his wife and daughter. He recalled wanting to tour the Olympic Facilities and asked at the front desk of his hotel if the tour was worth doing.
Absolutely – “especially if you get Jim Rogers as your tour guide”. Turns out Jim was giving a tour the following day and Clem and his family went along. When he learned what the North Country Boys had done, he was sold. Back in New York City he pitched the story to his bosses at 60 Minutes.
“It’s unbelievable to think about how Lake Placid pulled it off. I grew up I a small town in Pennsylvania with 4,00 people -- that’s not quite twice the size of Lake Placid -- and I couldn’t imagine my town trying to pull off something like that.
“And I look at what Lake Placid did in 1980 with the North Country Boys and its almost beyond belief. These guys had what it takes: a lot of audacity and guts. Could they do it today? I don’t think so. The Olympics have gotten so big and out of control.
“In 1980 it was still possible and the guys told us -- the ones that are still living -- said it never occurred to them that they couldn’t do it.
“For many of them if they hadn’t served in the war and had their families, this would have been the seminal event in their lives.”
We asked Clem is he ever got the sense in his interviews with Jim and Sergei that they ‘Boys were flying by the seat of their pants?
“Yeah, They admit that, they admit to being in over their heads in a lot of respects. Sergei told us: ‘We were just a bunch of local yokels, but we never doubted we could do this’”.
Ultimately Clem says the North Country Boys had help.
“The International Olympic Committee and New York State got a little nervous that the budgets were escalating and they were falling behind in construction, so during the last year and a half they bought in someone to manage logistics and finance and the guys from Lake Placid began to focus more heavily on sports”.
As for the legacy of the North Country Boys? “You can’t drive through Lake Placid without seeing the legacy of the North Country Boys, whether it’s the shops and businesses on Main Street, that bare the Olympic logo”, to the infrastructure left behind to train future generations of Olympians.
Clem said he and the 60 Minutes crew shot in Lake Placid for about 6 days.
“From the fall where the Olympic team were practicing aerials jumping into a swimming pool. to recently when it was freezing cold, about 9 degrees below zero when we pulled into town.
For the entire production crew – and correspondent Jim Axelrod – Clem says it was a “great experience”.
“Everyone involved in producing this story – who have literally been around the world, these are pretty jaded people, they have seen it all and done it all, and they were all really, really taken with the town and the characters we encountered there”.
The crew shot at various locations in town, including in a suite at the White Face Lodge. Clem singled out General Manager Chris Polito for his helpfulness.
In 1980 Clem was a young radio reporter working for NPR in Washington DC. He well remembers the handful of reporters dispatched to cover what would be an historic games, remembered for the Miracle On Ice hockey game.
“In tonight’s piece we talk about where the country was at that point. That’s why the Miracle On Ice was so important because the county was really in the dumps, the country was in a funk. there was an energy crises, you had the Iran hostage crises on going and then literally, a month and a half before the games started, it was Christmas Eve in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan which prompted President Carter to threaten to boycott the Summer Games in Moscow - which actually did happen. Everything seemed to be working against the success of the Lake Placid games.
“People believe the games would have done much better financially if President Carter – during the games – had not threatened the boycott.
“There was a lot going on in the country then which made the famous Miracle On Ice game such a cathartic event for America. We could suddenly feel good about the games, because we weren’t feeling so great”
And for those on the fence about visiting the Adirondacks?.
“My advice is GO. I have friends who are there almost every weekend to ski at White Face. It’s cold and it’s a drive, but they are totally loyal to it. In the summer there’s no more a beautiful place to be than Lake Placid and the surrounding areas of the Adirondacks.”