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Lake Placid celebrates its Olympic past, and eyes its future

The benefits of a miracle have been reaped in Lake Placid for 40 years.

The plan now is to keep those miracles — and miracle-seekers — coming.

Parts of Lake Placid's sports landscape are largely under construction again these days, a plan that walks a tightrope between preserving the area’s natural beauty and small-town charm while also finding ways keep the village a major player on the global winter-sports map and being modern enough to keep drawing athletes to town.

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 1980, file photo, the U.S. hockey team pounces on goalie Jim Craig after a 4-3 victory against the Soviet Union in a medal round match at the the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The United States upset the mighty Soviets in a breathtaking moment freighted with the tension of the Cold War. After four decades, nobody is willing to stop talking about perhaps the greatest David over Goliath moment in the history of sports. (AP PhotoFile)

Tourism is a $1.2 billion industry in the Lake Placid region, much of it still fueled by the memory of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviet Union as the “Miracle on Ice" highlight of the 1980 Olympic Games.

“It’s a special place,” said two-time Olympic alpine skiing medalist Andrew Weibrecht, who now helps his family operate the famed Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in Lake Placid. “Between all the venues and the Olympic Training Center, having that level of athletes all together in one place, training together even though they’re not all in the same sports, it brings everyone up.”

The trick now is to keep people coming to Lake Placid. And state officials are investing tens of millions to make sure that happens — a plan to keep the 1932 and 1980 Olympic village vital, unlike many other past Winter Olympic sites are mostly forgotten.

FILE - In this Feb. 15, 1980, file photo, Eric Heiden, of Madison, Wisc. competes during the 500m Olympic speed skating event of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Heiden won five speedskating gold medals, all in record time. Lake Placid is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Winter Olympics that were held in the Adirondack Mountain village. (AP Photo)

Bobsled and skeleton athletes are heading to Lake Placid next year for their world championships, and they’ll be greeted by a new base lodge — under construction now — and an indoor ice push facility for training. USA Luge will play host to World Cup racing again next winter, as it does most every year in Lake Placid. And there’s been a major push to get ready for the 2023 World University Games, where more than 2,000 athletes are expected.

The state has earmarked well over $100 million toward Lake Placid in the last couple of years for new facilities and improving existing ones — everything from the ski jumps to nordic trails to the Olympic Center itself. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal that was released last month calls for $147 million more to back an “upgrade and modernization plan to support improvements to the Olympic facilities and ski resorts.”

Cuomo touts the investments as ways to promote tourism, economic growth and job creation. But upgrading what’s already in Lake Placid also protects the village’s legacy.

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2001, file photo, Jim Shea, center, stands with his father, Jim Shea, Sr., right, and grandfather, Jack Shea, left, after Shea placed second in the World Cup Skeleton men's competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. With the finish, Shea earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and made his family the first to produce three generations of American Olympians. Jack Shea, 91, won two speedskating gold medals at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid. Jim Shea Jr. represented the United States at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck in three skiing events. Lake Placid is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Winter Olympics that were held in the Adirondack Mountain village. (AP Photo Jim McKnight)

“It's a shame that the state and a lot of places in this country don't understand how beautiful this gem is because it is internationally special,” Cuomo said. “It's not just special within the state, within the country. It is internationally special and generations before us understood that.”

Consider the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex, a few miles outside of the village. Crews are working there throughout the frigid winter to build the next phase of Lake Placid’s venue offerings — the base lodge near the bobsled track, a revamped biathlon facility, better trails and more.

What’s happening in Lake Placid is a far cry from what’s taking place at some of the places that followed it as a Winter Olympic host: Sarajevo’s bobsled track is now a bullet-riddled, graffiti-covered remnant of war; Calgary’s bobsled track from 1988 was closed last year and parts of it have since been demolished; Nagano’s track from 1998 is closed, and so is the Cesana Pariol track from 2006. Even Pyeongchang, which played host to the most recent Winter Olympics two years ago, has drawn criticism for overestimating what the long-term tourism payoff would be.

FILE - In this April 9, 2007 file photo, former Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton arrives for Figure Skating In Harlem's annual gala "Skating with the Stars" at Central Park's Wollman Rink in New York. Scott Hamilton gets goosebumps at the mention of Lake Placid. Forty years later, Hamilton will be among an array of athletes returning to celebrate the Olympics of the “Miracle on Ice” — when the U.S. hockey team upset the mighty Soviet Union — as well as Eric Heiden's five speedskating gold medals, all in record time and outside in the elements. (AP PhotoJason DeCrow, File)

Not Lake Placid.

It is simply bustling, 40 years later.

“Every once in a while, you can be sitting on the bench of the rink and you look around and think,” said retired USA Luge star Erin Hamlin, a world champion and Olympic medalist. “It’s a special place, for sure.”

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 1980, file photo, an American flag and Soviet team banner are shown above the hockey rink where the the United States and Soviets played a medal round hockey match at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The United States upset the mighty Soviets in a breathtaking moment freighted with the tension of the Cold War. After four decades, nobody is willing to stop talking about perhaps the greatest David over Goliath moment in the history of sports. (AP PhotoFile)

There are movements every few years to form a committee and explore another Olympic bid, but those efforts are mostly nostalgic. The Olympics are simply too big in their current form to be hosted by a small village, and if there’s blame to be issued there some of it, ironically, could be directed at Lake Placid because interest in the Winter Games soared after what happened in 1980.

Sarajevo in 1984 had 19% more athletes than Lake Placid did. Calgary, in 1988, had 33% more athletes than Lake Placid. By the time the Olympics got to Albertville in 1992, the number of competitors was up 68% over 1980. Nagano in 1998 had more than double the athletes from 1980, and the Beijing Games in 2022 could be the first to top 3,000 winter competitors — which would roughly triple Lake Placid.

Sports have been added since, the television deal is now measured in billions instead of millions and the evolution of security for both athletes and spectators make the logistics of another Olympics in a place like Lake Placid — where there’s basically one main drag through the center of town — impossible.

In this Feb. 22, 1980, photo, United States goalie Jim Craig sprawls to make a save on the Soviet Union's Vladimir Golikov during a medal-round game at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Tourism is a $1.2 billion industry in the Lake Placid region, much of it still fueled by the memory of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviet Union as the “Miracle on Ice" highlight of the 1980 Olympic Games. (Tom SweeneyStar Tribune via AP)

Everything else, like World Cups, world championships and the World University Games, remain within reach and have been clearly prioritized. Lake Placid has been a major piece of the winter sports puzzle globally for a century, and has no plans on giving up that spot anytime soon.

“You look at all the roles that everyone played within this community to make that Olympics happen,” said figure skater Scott Hamilton, who carried the U.S. flag into the opening ceremony in 1980. “Sarajevo was bigger and then you got into Calgary, which was gigantic and it just sort of like spiked. But I think Lake Placid and what happened here really ignited greater interest in the Winter Olympics. I really think we could see the miraculous things that happened.”

If Lake Placid gets its way, more miracles await.

In this Feb. 22, 1980, photo, United States coach Herb Books and players look to the action on the ice during a medal-round game against the Soviet Union at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Tourism is a $1.2 billion industry in the Lake Placid region, much of it still fueled by the memory of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviet Union as the “Miracle on Ice" highlight of the 1980 Olympic Games. (Tom SweeneyStar Tribune via AP)

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*ATTENTION AP SPORTS PHOTO DESK, EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01AM ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2020* In this Feb. 22, 1980, photo, Team USA goaltender Jim Craig got a hug from goalie coach Warren Strelow in the moments after defeating the Soviet Union during the medal-round of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Tourism is a $1.2 billion industry in the Lake Placid region, much of it still fueled by the memory of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviet Union as the “Miracle on Ice" highlight of the 1980 Olympic Games. (Tom SweeneyStar Tribune via AP)

In this Feb. 22, 1980, photo, the United States Olympic hockey team celebrated its upset victory over the Soviet Union, the four-time defending Olympic champions, during the medal-round of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Tourism is a $1.2 billion industry in the Lake Placid region, much of it still fueled by the memory of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviet Union as the “Miracle on Ice" highlight of the 1980 Olympic Games. (Tom SweeneyStar Tribune via AP)