Lake Placid Olympic officials vowed today to keep the Games open to spectators while trying to solve the transportation, logistic and organizational snafus which have plagued the Games since their opening Wednesday.
On Thursday night, when thousands of people waited for buses in freezing temperatures and two medal winners missed their award ceremonies, the Rev. J. Bernard Fell, president of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, strongly suggested all spectators be banned from the Games.
"There's absolutely no truth to that," responded Petr Spurney, general manager of the Games, to Fell's idea. LPOOC spokesman, Ed Lewi called Fell's recommendation "irrational" and said it had been rejected.
Fell backed off his threat somewhat today, telling the Associated Press: "I don't think it's going to be a necessity now. I think it's going to smooth out. I was greatly concerned after the opening ceremonies (Wednesday) but today we'll work the kinks out of this thing."
But, he added, if the situation doesn't improve he still might call for the banning of spectators. "I don't want to endanger people," he said.
"Overreaction" is how some LPOOC officials have termed Fell's comments. "There is no plan whatsoever to ban spectators," an official said today.
Working out the kinks was a concern of the International Olympic Committee's executive board, which summoned Fell and Spurney to a meeting this morning to explain the transportation problems and a major foul-up at the medal ceremonies Thursday night.
Soviet medal winners were among the missing because, according to a man from Tass, nobody told them about the ceremonies. Flagpoles and fences were missing from the site -- on frozen-over Mirror Lake -- because of cost-cutting measures. "It looked like an elementary-school production," one man in attendance said. "A bad production."
Even IOC President Lord Killanin was involved in the fiasco. He was summoned at the last minute to present the medals, only because the official responsible for that duty couldn't get there on time. Killanin dropped a medal.
There were some indications today that the situation was improving, particularly in bringing spectators back to town from faraway venues.
Spurney said that an additional 33 buses had arrived in the region and been put into use, giving the system a total of 300 to move the crowds expected to rise to 50,000 each day this weekend.
"The whole basis of our commitment centered around the ability of our transportation system to get people around," Spurney said in an interview today. "In the last few days, it's been realigned and supplemented and handled spectators well. It is now running functionally. New York state has become very heavily involved.
"You remember how long it took Metro to get the bugs out. This is only the second day of the competition, and we think it's going to work.
"No, what the Rev. Fell said doesn't surprise me . . . I do know that all the predictions that Lake Placid will be littered with the bones of the starving are not a reality.
"Nothing surprises me at an Olympics. There's always tremendous interest, there is tremendous skepticism and there is tremendous controversy. We've got all of that, don't we?"
Spurney said the LPOOC has sold tickets to the events totaling about $10 million and has pledged to refund the money of any spectators who missed events because of transportation problems.
The bus system's biggest problems seem to occur immediately after the conclusion of events. Thousands of spectators were forced to walk three miles back to Lake Placid after the opening ceremonies Wednesday.
And 1,200 spectators waited as long as 90 minutes before transportation arrived after the downhill run on Thursday at Whiteface, 10 miles from the village.
"There are two ways to deal with the problem," Spurney said. "One is to have less people, and the other is to have better transportation.
"We don't need more buses. We need to handle the ones we have so that buses don't sit around empty."
Autocar Rive-Sud, a Montreal firm, originally was supposed to run a 300-bus set of spectator, athlete and press transit systems over the area's three major two-lane roads.
But the tiny Canadian firm was plagued by equipment shortages and labor problems on the eve of the Games, and it was overwhelmed when the first of an estimated 54,000 people a day jammed into this mountain village of 2,700.
'We chose Rive-Sud because they were the only bus company available," Spurney said. Other companies were not interested when the contract was let "because of the gasoline situation in the United States."
"Rive-Sud is so small it had nothing to lose," one of LPOOC's negotiators said.
Some drivers reported working more than 14 hours a day, four more than rules allow, and buses sat empty in remote lots. Transportation delays irritated spectators and reporters who surged around arriving vans, only to be moved back by state troopers.