"The 1980 Winter Olympics were put on for the benefit of three entities only: the corporations, the media and maybe the athletes." -- Jon Doniger, spectator They said the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid would put the Olympics in perspective. Maybe. But they've certainly put the fans in their place.
Out in the cold.
There are no buses, no bathrooms, no bargains. But still, the people who paid up to $60 per ticket are glad to be here, glad to be part of history, to be part of what may be the last Olympic Games.
"The people at home were really excited about me coming," said Donna Hoffman, a nurse from Warren, Pa. "They feel like I'm competing."
Some came to rally round the flag, although one is not easy to find in the shops of Lake Placid. Some came to be seen, as well as to see.
But mostly they came to party.
"Gotta get psyched for this," said Jim, from Connecticut.
"Why be drab?"
The people in Row 10 of the grandstand at the speed-skating oval wanted to see Eric Heiden win the first American gold medal in the 500 meters. But mostly they wanted to get crocked.
There was dope, there was speed, there was coke -- the kind that everything goes better with. The young, white Americans drinking White Russians at 10:30 a.m. know how to have a good time.
Jim, the milkman from Connecticut, mixed the brew himself: half-gallon of vodka, half-gallon of kahlua, eight quarts of milk. "It's good for you," he said.
Jim and his friends planned their trip carefully. They had banner parties to paint the sign that says "ABC, U.S.A., No. 1," and sent an expeditionary party up to Placid a month ago to scout the best locations for partying.
"Got to be pumped."
They sleep in unheated vans, but that's okay. "We have enough antifreeze in us," Jim said.
The night before, when they caught a bus to go back to the parking lot where they had left the van, they "found the bus driver was passed out drunk and someone else was driving," Jim said.
It was the only bus they took all day. They had to walk three miles to Whiteface to see the downhill, but that was no problem. "It separates the cigarette smokers from the nonsmokers," Jim said.
Jim's friend, Peter, said he heard that "Richard Nixon had designed the bus system."
Everyone nodded. Nixon's the one.
The Doobie Brothers went off the loudspeaker. It was time for the race. When Eric Heiden stripped off his red, white and blue warmups, revealing his gold skating suit, the crowd began to hoot and hum the music from "The Stripper."
Heiden was pitted against the Soviet, Evgeni Kulikov, in the first heat. "Drill the Russians," Jim yelled.
"The Olympics are the first thing we have to pull us together," he said. "We need gold medals to fire us up. We need Eric Heiden to sweep today.
"The U.S.A. is best. There's no place else in the world that we could be doing what we're doing right now. Someplaces, we couldn't even wear jeans."
Guy Schamel drove his Winnebago to Lake Placid, figuring there would be no other accommodations available. "The KOA is charging us $70 a night," he said shaking his head.
Dick Nelson, the former mayor of Richmond, Calif., arrived in his Winnebago three days later. "The Koa wanted $80 a night," he said, "usually it's six or seven."
The Nelsons, who have attended every Winter Olympics since the last one in America (squaw Valley, 1960), parked in a friend's driveway.
Tammy Neal, 15, of Girl Scout Troop 1045 in Tonawanda, N.Y., paid $6.10 for two eggs, two sausages, home fries and toast one morning. "I almost passed out,' she said.
Doyle McFadden of Los Angeles paid $4 for a 10-ounce cup of Taylor Lake Country Red hot, spiced wine at a huge concession stand, the same price as a jug in most parts of the country.
The night before the Games began, one restaurant was charging $16.95 for a steak for two. A day later $16.95 got you a steak for one.
Lake Placid's restaurants are empty. Everyone is brown-bagging it.
It's enough to make you think the fans don't matter here, that they are last on the priority list.
Petr. L. Spurney, general manager of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee (Lpooc) says that isn't so. "They're not the last priority but they weren't the first, either," he said.
Another LPOOC official disagreed. "The last priority/They are here,"," he said. "The whole concept of an Olympics in perspective has been to return the games to the athletes. The new arena for example, is wonderful from a competitor's point of view. In terms of the spectators, it is not . . . I don't know how to say this nicely . . . I guess I won't say it at all."
The ticket sales say it all. The LPOOC expected to have 34,000 spectators a day (1.6 tickets per person). On Friday, Kevin McHale, the director of admissions at the Olympic ticket office, said there were 45,000 to 50,000 tickets still available, not including 60,000 that had been blocked out for tour operators but never sold.
There are also tickets being hawked on the streets. But it is the scalpers who are getting scalped. A $22 luge ticket was going for as little as $2 minutes before Friday's race.
The man behind the counter at Ario Tours ("put it on plastic; it won't hurt until next month") had 4,800 tickets left to sell on Friday. "I had to throw away 1,000 (of the 15,000 he had)," he said. "Why? Because The Washington Post told people not to come, because The Washington Post said there would be no food, no rooms."
"How does it feel to be the only black in Lake Placid?" Howard Thompson was asked.
Thompson, who was leaning against the railing at the luge run, a bottle of imported French champagne buried in the snow at his feet, said, "I'm not. There's 35. I counted."
Thompson, a student at Emerson College in Boston was asked why so few blacks are here. "It's mostly economic, plus the fact that not a lot of blacks are in winter sports," he said. "If this was the Summer Games, you'd see a lot of black people here."
As he spoke, a black man in a Kodak uniform walked by. "Thirty-six," said Thompson.
The Kodak man, hearing the remark, turned and grinned. He understood. As he offered his hand in a seven-part soul shake, he said, "But how many are women?"
But what do the fans see?
James Reid, another college student from Minneapolis, joined in the conversation at the luge run, and the now-open champagne "Everyone said, 'Stay home and watch on TV, you'll see more'," said Reid, as a sled whooshed by. "Well, screw TV. They aren't dancing with the parade down Main Street. That's what I came for."
Janet Scardino, a student at Emerson said, "You don't get the sensation on television, the intensity in the faces, the tense muscles in the necks. It makes me wonder about all TV coverage of sports."
They came for the whoosh and the speed, the fragment of perception that says more about sport than 51 1/2 hours and 109 television cameras ever can.
They came for the people.
And they came for their country. Even those, like M. J. Knapp, who says in case of draft, "I'm definitely a C.O. (conscientious objector)."
"I think it's a very important time for our country and it's patriotic to be here," she said. "I thought it took a lot on the Americans' part not to get political at the opening ceremonies with the Russians. I would have had a great tendency myself to harass them. I'm up for democracy."
There were 7,125 people in the Olympic field house (capacity 8,500) for the U.S.-Czechoslovakia hockey game Thursday night and each and every one of them was chanting the same thing: "U.S.A., U.S.A."
They roared at Jim Craig's saves; they roared for each of the seven American goals; they even roared at line changes.
A born-again media groupie was not working very hard, no dancing. He said he had a friend at the network who put him on the air early. "Once I get a closeup, I can sit down and relax" he said.
Irv Fish, who came from Minnesota to see members of his beloved U. of Minnesota Gophers play for the U.S., has had no hassles in Lake Placid. He also has a travel permit.
Fish said he was annoyed that people fortunate enough to attend the Games were still complaining. "They get the attitude that this is for the spectators and is really for the athletes," he said.
"At least that's what the IOC says. Hey, I've got 1,200 rooms in the Lake Placid Club, and the athletes have 1,400 rooms in a prison."
Donna Hoffman was one of 1,200 spectators stranded at 10 p.m. at the luge run. The night before she waited three hours for a bus. "We kept warm by running back and forth between buses," she said.
At 11, the Salvation Army arrived. "No band," she said, "just a truck, and coffee and hot chocolate."
Hoffman spent the next morning trying to buy an American flag in Lake Placid. "It's not the Fourth of July so no one had them," she said.
She finally found one for $1.98. "I haven't bought an American flag since I was a kid," she said. "It's really been a long time. Maybe that's why they don't have them; people like me weren't interested for so long."
There were 12 seconds left in the game and the Americans were winning, 7-3. The crowd started to sing "God Bless America."
The chills were not confined to the people sitting next to the ice.