The utimate blame for the Olympian mess at the 13th Winter Olympics ought to fall on the International Olympic Committee. Why it thought a hamlet of 2,700 could host an event nearly 27 times its size without monumental problems defies belief -- until one realizes that nobody else in the world wanted these Games.
Every reasonalbe person hoped this experience would work, for it would show a growing number of cynics that the Olympics might have a future somewhere other than in a country that uses sport as a heavy political tool.
It has not.
Any perspective on the Games in perspective screams that they don't work. The little town that tried couldn't. Any Games without an inordinate amount of space and money or governmental meddling is doomed. Denver must be ecstatic about now, having foreseen this several years ago and said no.
All that has gone right is the first Olympic priority -- and all that ABC showed you until it could no longer ingnore the harsh truth: the competition has been grand and dramatic, set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountains.
Nearly all else has been troubled in varying degrees, beginning with a transportation foul-up that caused the governor of New York to declare a limited state of emergency Saturday. Only the inherent good nature of sports fans, their high tolerance for extraordinary inconvenience has kept the scene from being riotous.
"It is not only the spectators, who have been stranded for interminable periods waiting for buses and caught up in ticket lines, who are angry after the first week," said the owner of a small market. "Residents and merchants here are bitter as well.
"The whole idea of this was to build this place back into a winter resort.I think we've done just the opposite. I think we've hurt our summer trade. People have come here, they've been frustrated by the lack of organization: They've been gouged every way they turn. They've had to wait in line at restaurants to get bad food at $30 a plate.
"I don't think they're ever going to come back here in any season. Lake Placid is going to have a bad name in many people's minds. The LPOOC (Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee) has done such a terrible job, the whole thing is a shambles. I think it's the worst thing that could have happened to Lake Placid short of an earthquake.
"We're not doing any business. It's dead. We're doing less than we usually do. We haven't seen more than three local customers in two weeks. They've all left the region until this boondoggle is over."
For residents such as Mike And Christie Kelly, the extent of the boondoggle is just beginning to seem clear. They know all too well that the economy here was tenuous even before the Games and that the loss of millions in expected revenue could be disastrous.
They are bracing for the worst, realizing that little thought was given to after use of the facilities.
As a joke, the Kellys displayed an over-sized plastic beer bottle in their deli Sept. 29 with a sign that read: "Help Pay For The Mistake of the Lake Placid Olympic Organization (sic) Committee."
"We're still going to donate everything to charity," Mike said. "But the sign no longer is a joke."
The Olympic triple is a popular, though hardly scheduled, event here. At the moment, the leader is a reporter, John Powers of the Boston Globe, who was stranded for more than an hour at each of three different avenues on the same day.
Still, for all the delays and price gouging, the Catch-22 situation where fans could only get tickets to events inside certain outlying checkpoints but could only get past those checkpoints with tickets they wanted to buy, the LPOOC has been exceedingly lucky.
The weather has been milder than almost anyone dreamed possible. temperatures have been 20 to 30 degrees higher than normal so far. If these thousands of fans had been stranded in typical below-zero Lake Placid conditions, perhaps more than a few would have died.
How did this unconscionable catastrophy happen? The LPOOC, after all, had six years to prepare for 13 days.
Part of the answer is Lake Placid itself. What makes it so appealing -- the intimacy, seclusion and distance from metropolitan areas -- also makes it prohibitive as a host for something like the Winter Olympics. Imagine a village in the Maryland or Virginia countryside, perhaps Selbyville, Del., on the Eastern Shore, with just three two-lane roads leading in and out. Imagine it trying to cope with more than 50,000 people.
The LPOOC considered this and, correctly, decided the only way to survive was to limit the number of cars, make nearly everone ride buses. It was a wonderful idea that might have had a chance if competent people had been in charge.
Ron MacKenzie apparently was. But he died slightly more than a year ago, during the dedication of the 70-meter ski jump outside town.
What the LPOOC needed was firm, imaginative leadership, someone like the late Clifford Roberts, who, for his considerable negative traits, developed the Masters golf tournament into the most efficient event in sports. d
It is a bit too early to point fingers with certainty, though many surely will snap toward the current LPOOC president, the Rev. Bernard Fell, the general manager, Petr Spurney of Chevy Chase, Md., and the director of operations, Samuel Fader.
Fader, according to press spokesman Ed Lewi, negotiated the transportation system. He was relieved of those responsibilities earlier this week and replaced by a man whose major qualification seem to be a deep knowledge of Olympic history, Norman Hess.
Transporation is the ugly and monstrous snowball of these Olympics -- and it began to build even during the Summer Olympics of '76 in Montreal, when arguments flared after American drivers tried to work in Canada.
According to Lewi, the LPOOC tried to negotiate an Olympics package with Greyhound, hoping to take advantage not only of its buses but also its management expertise. When a gas crisis began to seem a possibility, Greyhound backed off.
Everywhere the LPOOC turned in the northeastern United States, Lewi said, proved unsatisfactory. So it turned to a Canadian firm, which was supposed to provide about half the 300 buses and also its drivers and dispatchers.
The Teamsters than became involved, demanding 18 American drivers at first and later 50. Matters became so tense and chaotic that Lewi once grabbed an uncooperative driver and wrestled him from the bus.
That was a day before the Olympics began.
Fan inconvenience is one thing. But when the majority of the 80-some IOC members were 20 minutes late for the opening ceremonies it was time to get cracking. So the state-dominated Olympic Task Force assumed command. And 35 Greyhound buses and drivers arrived.
Which led to the most meaningful questions and answers of the Games:
Did you ever test the transporation system here for the Games?
"Yes," said official Howard Clark.
"The first day."
Each night the LPOOC promises improvement; the next day seems as bad, if not worse.
Because there is no public transportation here, drivers are just now beginning to know Lake Placid, how to get from one event to the other. This is possible because the LPOOC finally coaxed residents to ride the buses and give directions to the drivers.
Also, the LPOOC was stupidly inflexible until Saturday. All buses were marked, for VIP's spectators, athletes, press, officials, etc. And the drivers were told not to allow a reporter on a bus reserved for spectators, or a spectator on a bus reserved for officials.
This led to incredible scenes. Roads thought to be packed were barren for great distances; near-empty buses were passing near-freezing fans. On Saturday, twice as many people as the population of Lake Placid were stranded 14 miles outside town, in Keene.
Another reason for the transportation travesty is greed, probably on the part of the LPOOC and certainly on the part of tour operators throughout the country.
Half the 500,000 tickets were allocated to tour operators, with the stipulation that they would provide bus transporation to, from and during the Games. But the packages were so expensive the fans balked. So the operators sold the tickets without the transportation -- and unexpected thousands arrived and squeezed into already-crowded parking lots.
Perhaps by the end of the Games the LPOOC will have a fraction of the order it sought to have had by the beginning. It is deeply hurt and embarrassed, to the point where Fell said spectators should be banned from the events.
The human lightning rod in the disaster has been Lewi, who owns a public relations firm in Albany, but moved here two years ago to work with the LPOOC. He has felt the venom from all sides, spectators and press versus the transporation officials.
"Everybody else here trades pins," he said today. "We trade buses."
The starting development is that Lewi has remained alive and smiling. Every night he fields the rawest questions from reporters. Ron Stander has not been hit so often and so hard. Then Lewi must present the complaints to the other side.
A few days ago, he and his wife fulfulled a promise and drove early in the morning to a delegation of Yugoslavs and Italians several miles out of town. He had told them he would arrange two buses to bring them to town.
An hour passed and no bus arrived, despite Lewi being on the phone every few minutes. So Maureen drove 11 people back to town. Another hour passed; no bus. And another. Finally, after 3 1/2 hours, Lewi contacted an emergency taxi.
That is a revealing illustration. Most of the people here are well-meaning. President Fell's wife has been seen manning an emergency van. They wanted desperately to show the athletic world they could manage a world-class event, revive the spirt of the town.
The might have trouble organizing a weenie roast.