The Winter Games in retrospect

by David McDonald and Lauren Drewery

For two weeks in February, thousands of athletes, coaches, officials, journalists, and spectators from all over the frostier regions of the globe occupied the small Adirondack Mountain village of Lake Placid, New York. Millions more around the world watched on television and read about it in their daily newspapers. Instantaneously, names like Eric Heiden, Sylvia Burka, Steve Podborski, Irina Rodnina, Steve Collins, Jim Craig, Gaétan Boucher, Annett Poetzsch, Ken Read, and Hanni Wenzel became as well known as those of politicians and pop stars. Famous or not, every visitor to Lake Placid came away with lasting impressions, good and bad, of the XIII Winter Olympics. Here, from a Canadian point of view, are some of them:

SYLVIA BURKA, veteran of three Olympic Games, competes for the last time in Lake Placid.
SYLVIA BURKA, avec trois Jeux Olympiques à son crédit, en est à sa dernière participation au Lake Placid.

Burka: a commercial circus

Sylvia Burka, speed skater. Former world champion Burka retired after Lake Placid. The only major honour to elude her during her illustrious career was an Olympic Medal.

In 1976, had I quit, it would have bothered me not having won an Olympic medal. Now, only time will tell if it’ll bother me in the long run. The whole year was what I talked to Champion (Vol 3. No. 1) about last year: namely, that I had gotten too mellow. I was satisfied with mediocre results. Now it’s not a case as it was in 1976 of just training harder to improve. It’s over. There’s no desire to improve on what I did. It’d be nice to get a medal, I suppose, but I just couldn’t put another four years into it. This year it was just waiting for the end. But it’s hard to quit. November next year I’ll be … I don’t know what I’ll do.

In 1972 I was like a kid going to the Olympics. My eyes were wide open, taking everything in. It was full of grandeur, the Olympics in Sapporo. When I think back I don’t remember the ice conditions, I don’t remember the weather conditions, or anything to do with skating. I remember the ceremonies, the Japanese people, the places we went. In 1976 it was just the opposite. I don’t remember the ceremonies because I didn’t go in them. I don’t remember meeting any people there. But I remember exactly what the ice was like, who the pairs were, what I felt like when I skated. This year was kind of a combination, I guess. I was aware of skating, I was aware of the people, I was aware of what fun you could have at the Olympics.

Still, I don’t think it would be a big loss the way the Olympics are run now if they don’t continue. In 1976 I was critical of the Olympics because they were so media-and official-oriented. The least important thing seemed to be the actual competitions. I also didn’t like what happened in Lake Placid. The whole thing was a commercial circus. There’s always so much attention paid to the fact of whether or not an athlete is a true amateur or not, but at the Olympics they sell athletes in newspapers, on TV, and they sell teeshirts with Olympic logos on them. The money goes to someone else. The athletes are the ones who do all the work and the athletes are the ones the press is disappointed in. It just seems like, in most cases, the athletes are the real losers in the Olympics. I guess it’s worth it for the ones who win, but you begin to wonder about all the years you put into it just for an Olympic medal. It doesn’t make you any happier. Mind you, I wouldn’t throw one away!

Drake: a slight lack of poise

Clare Drake, hockey coach

I’m tremendously pleased and proud of the way the players played over the course of the six months and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t have been at a really high peak for all the 18 periods we played. We were hoping to play 21 periods in Lake Placid.

In the whole Olympic tournament we lost only four of 18 periods, but the ones we did lose were the.key ones. We lost the second in the Finn game and the third against the Russians and only two others. We had reasonable consistency for a young team but just didn’t play as well as we could, particularly in our own end. It wasn’t panic, just a slight lack of poise.

In order to win a tournament like this in the future we’re going to need more experienced players. The first step would be a super university league, which we coaches have been proposing for about eight years now. Regardless, university competition will have to be on a much higher level so players between 18 and 23 will gain high-calibre experience. Continuing with tournament games in the fall and at Christmas will also be important. Three years from now you might have a nucleus of ten or 15 players and I think we could compare favourably with the top European teams. I think there’s room for both professional and amateur competition with Europe. I think people are interested in both.

Farber: the reality is television

Michael Farber, sportswriter, Montreal Gazette:

The reality of these Games is not what went on in Lake Placid. It’s what went on on television. It’s what CTV and ABC told the people happened. Only about a tenth of one per cent of the people who had contact with the Olympic Games were actually in Lake Placid to experience it firsthand. Everybody wants to know about Eric Heiden and the people they see on television. This is the reality of the Olympic Games. All the rest may as well not have happened.

The fact that it is a TV show gives the print journalists a feeling of inadequacy. We just don’t have the resources, the ability to cover it like television. We’re always going to be second in terms of immediacy, in terms of being spectacular. I can’t describe Ken Read’s fall as well as it’s described to anyone who sees it on television. There it is, they’ve seen it. Nothing I’m going to write is going to add anything to it in terms of immediacy. But print sports journalism helps fill in the gaps TV leaves. You just hope people will make the leap of faith and agree to read between the lines on the TV screens. We have to look for different things, point out what television doesn’t show.

Kemkaran: dreams come true

Heather Kemkaran, figure skater:

It was just like all my dreams come true. I’ll always remember the lighting of the Olympic flame. I’d waited so many years to go, and there 1 was. When we walked out for the opening ceremonies the crowds went wild. It was wonderful to be appreciated in that manner.

The part I remember most was during the compulsory figures when they announced my name: “Heather Kemkaran, from Canada” — me representing Canada! To hear it announced like that was the ultimate.

I’d never been with so many athletes. I’ll remember the friends I made there for a long time. You see the way other people handle the pressures of competition, the way they handle their various sports. You watch them work hard at what they’re doing. All athletes work very hard. It was an inspiration.

It was a real thrill to watch Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev from Russia. I was in there with them. I was there to witness their third gold medal.

My friends have respect for me. I never even thought I would be a Canadian champion. It’s so important for me, at the age of 21, to have accomplished a goal, and to have learned as much as I have.

Nadeau: a new interest in sports admin.

Danielle Nadeau, luger:

Just being in the Village was quite an experience. As a luger you don’t see anyone but lugers all year, so it was a great experience to meet all the best from other sports, to sit with Ingemar Stenmark in the cafeteria, for example. And I’d never even met the Canadian athletes from other sports — people like Kathy Kreiner.

It was my first Olympics so I didn’t really know what kind of attitude to have. You try to tell yourself it’s just another race. But it’s such a big event that it’s hard to keep from getting overly excited. Then again, you don’t want to be too lowkey either.

Another thrill for me was to get to see a lot of figure skating. I used to be a competitive figure skater, but I never had the opportunity to go to a world competition. Also, Irina Rodnina (the Russian pairs figure skating three-time gold medallist), for example, was staying in the same building as us and it was exciting to see and meet such stars.

The publicity surrounding the Olympics did a lot of good for luge in Canada. Many people who didn’t even know about the sport before saw it and now know how exciting it is. Many of my friends had never even seen it before. Now they know what I do. And some of them are interested in trying it. There are only — and this is a generous estimate — maybe 20 active lugers in Canada. So we really need more participation to develop the sport. The Olympics was a big boost if we can get more people to come out.

The Olympics was also a chance for me to learn something about sports administration. I met a number of people from Ottawa and elsewhere with whom I discussed some of the problems of small sports, such as luge, how they often don’t have programs and technical advisors. I’m even thinking of going back to school to study sports administration. I would like to work in this area with luge and eventually I would also like to get into the development of other small sports.

Terry O’Malley: more dramatic in McLuhan age

Terry O’Malley, hockey player. O’Malley, 39, was a member of the 1964 and 1968 Olympic teams.

TERRY O’MALLEY (24), a member of Canada’s Olympic hockey team in 1964 and 1968, in action against Czechoslovakia in Lake Placid.
TERRY O’MALLEY (24), membre de l’équipe olympique canadienne de hockey en 1964 et 1968, lors d’un match contre la Tchécoslovaquie au Lake Placid.

There seems to be a lot more global coverage about the Olympics. Obviously, the McLuhan electric age has taken hold of the Olympics and made it very dramatic, more so than when we played 12 or 16 years ago.

But the Olympics are always emotional, this one no less than any of them. I think we were closer to beating the Russians this time than in 1964 or 1968, so it was more disappointing to lose. We had them down. We were so close. We had them against the wall and let them go.

Pickett: success for the silent service

John Pickett, mission director, Canadian Olympic Association:

We have good visibility when the Games are on, but basically the Games Mission is a silent but essential, service. That’s the way it should be — the focus is on the competition, not on what we do.

From our standpoint, the sport competitions were well handled. The way other things were handled by the organizing committee — like transportation and accreditation — were disappointing.

Happily though, the pre-Games negative publicity concerning the Village was ill-founded. It was the best run aspect of the entire Games. The food, the entertainment — everthing was excellent. The Village was its own community and the result was a good esprit de corps, not just among Canadians, but among all the athletes.

The response to Canada at the opening ceremonies was really heartwarming — one felt proud to be a Canadian. At Canada House the flow of people never stopped. A lot of Americans took the opportunity to come in and thank Canada. It was nice to be appreciated.

The COA does a lot more than just issue airline tickets. There are a lot of details to look after. In terms of most program areas —team selection, athlete accreditation, transportation — everything went pretty smoothly. For us, things did work in Lake Placid. This is the second unit we’ve had an opportunity to work on. The first Games mission was at the Pan American Games in Puerto Rico, and the third will be in Moscow.

We’re working on a couple of bugs, some in the staging to do with accreditation of athletes and with the issuing of team clothing. We’d also like to improve our media liaison services. The Game Plan people are very experienced and we’d like to take more advantage of their expertise.

We now have a firm grip on most areas of concern for athletes and national sport governing bodies. All we have to do is put all the pieces of the puzzle together to improve the services we can provide.

We were also active in other areas at the Games. For instance, Canada hosted a seminar on sports medicine clinics, which was attended by 35 to 40 members of medical teams from other countries. The exchange of information was great.

There was, too, some extensive work done by the Calgary Olympic Development Association in its bid for the 1988 Winter Games to make everyone aware of Calgary’s presence and capability for hosting the Olympics.

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