Lake Placid, New York, the little village tucked away in the Adirondacks of New York State, is hallowed ground for the Olympic Winter Games.
There, in 1932, the United States hosted the Winter Games for the first time and the first Olympic medals were awarded in a podium ceremony. It was also the first time Coca-Cola became a sponsor of the Olympics, a partnership that has remained to this day.
And then in 1980, it was Eric Heiden’s historic speedskating sweep and what’s commonly known as one of the greatest American sporting moments of all time, the Miracle on Ice as the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in men’s ice hockey.
And now, against all odds, could Lake Placid be an Olympic Winter Games host for a third time?
The New York State Olympic Regional Developmental Authority has proposed the sliding events of bobsled, luge and skeleton for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games be held in Lake Placid as a solution to the long-running drama in Italy. Along with Lake Placid, proposals have been submitted from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. A decision is expected to be announced by January 31.
“We know there’s an ocean between us,” said Darcy Rowe Norfolk, director of communications at the Olympic Regional Development Authority. “When you actually digest a direct flight from New York City to Milan after a five-hour drive from Lake Placid — you put together the timing of going to another city in Europe, it’s not too far-fetched. The Olympic movement is changing … the old concept of staying in one nation with climate change, legacy venues and sustainability, it starts to make sense that maybe we look at things differently.”
Lake Placid Makes Its Case
Lake Placid underwent extensive renovations at all its winter sports venues over the past few years as part of preparations to host the 2023 World University Winter Games and now gives it the ability to propose hosting events in 2026. The Mt Van Hoevenberg Sliding Center track is considered to be one of the world’s most technically challenging and a new 55,000-square-foot Mountain Pass Lodge includes a state-of-the-art indoor push track.
“Having the new facility at Mt Van Hoevenberg that was built and very specifically curated for all the recreational and fun things it does, but for training and competition needs for a variety of sports — that took it from a maybe we should bid to a no-brainer that we should absolutely bid on this,” said Rebecca Dayton, general manager at Mt Van Hoevenberg.
The village will host the 2024 Congress for the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation and the International Luge Federation, and the 2025 International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation World Championships, its 11th time hosting the event overall. When the USOPC announced that Lake Placid had submitted a bid for 2026, it was hosting the opening race weekend for the 2023-2024 International Luge Federation World Cup. In the past 12 months, the Olympic Regional Development Authority hosted over 50 sporting events and tournaments.
“The investment by New York state in our legacy venues has put us in demand,” Norfolk said. “Beyond sliding events, we are hosting World Cup ski jumping, we’re hosting international biathlon in the future. Within the international community of sport, people are seeing Lake Placid in a bigger light.”
The bid has two alternatives for housing athletes and officials. One would utilize nearby Paul Smith’s College, which was home for the Athletes Village during the FISU Games, along with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers. The other alternative would have U.S. and Italian athletes at the training center and others staying in hotels throughout the village. The Lake Placid Conference Center would be used as the main dining hall for athletes.
Lake Placid would offer the venue, existing venue staff plus utilities at no cost to the Milano Cortina 2026 Organizing Committee. The Italian sliding teams would also be allowed to use the facilities full-time for training before the Games and reside in the international wing at the U.S. Olympic Performance Training Center on site.
Lake Placid also has a viable piece for the IOC and Milan-Cortina organizers to be intrigued by — its proximity to New York City. The bid proposes medal ceremonies at Rockefeller Center in the heart of the city and headquarters of NBC, whose broadcast contract with the IOC is the biggest source of revenue for the organization. Lake Placid organizers have stressed being “one degree of separation” from Milan-Cortina based on latitude and the number of Italian Americans in New York.
“We know there are things about Lake Placid and the East Coast of the United States that are very favorable from a TV perspective,” said Dayton, mindful of NBC’s importance to the Olympic movement.
“The concept of having these athletes getting on a podium in Rockefeller Center … it’s a nice concept that we can do,” Norfolk added. “The New York City piece is pretty important.”
How We Got Here
Why Lake Placid is in a position to propose hosting the sliding events for 2026 is an Italian soap opera of its own.
Opened in 1923 and used for the 1956 Olympic Winter Games in Cortina, the Eugenio Monti Sliding Centre track has been closed since 2008 due to a shortage of funding for the necessary renovation work. While initial costs for rebuilding the track had risen to $160 million, a scaled-back plan proposed by organizers could cost less. A plan to renovate a mothballed track used for the 2006 Games in Turin was also discussed despite the IOC shutting down that idea.
The IOC said in October it expects sliding events to be held outside of Italy to save money spent renovating a venue it feels would not be in line with its newfound emphasis on financial savings. But at the same time, Italian organizers have stubbornly refused to entertain the idea that the events could be moved. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini recently told Italian media “the bobsleigh track, respecting costs and times, must be in Cortina.”
“We know location is probably the biggest obstacle,” Norfolk said. But she also points to symmetry between the cities: “If we were to be selected with Milan-Cortina, we would be both hosting (the Olympics) for the third time and that’s a nice fit to the legacy piece.”
And here’s another legacy between the cities: James Ernest Lamy won a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympic Winter Games in Cortina and later became general manager of Mt Van Hoevenberg. One of his descendants is Emma Lamy, ORDA’s current sustainability and environmental officer.
With a renovated set of winter sports venues and coming off a series of international events with more to come, hearing positive news on January 31 would be a major win for Lake Placid. Those involved with the bid believe it has a strong chance and also knows should the bid not come to fruition, it would not stop the momentum it has gained.
“The Lake Placid and this New York City concept is just the beginning for us on being on the map for high-level events,” Norfolk said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have the Olympics, but it’s only the start of the next big things for us as well.”