LAKE PLACID – The full mission has yet to be completed at the Olympic 400-Meter Speed Skating Oval as construction is not complete; However, it will reach a milestone today when it reopens – as promised – for public skating before Christmas.
An employee of the state’s Olympic Regional Development Authority cleared snow from the new ice with a Bobcat on Tuesday morning – just at the start of the winter solstice – as teams continued to work on projects, such as the construction of a temporary storage shelter and the new support building. Opening week visitors will use the old entrance instead of the new grand staircase at the corner of Cummings Road and Main Street as it is not finished. The landscaping is expected to be completed in the spring by the time of high school graduation in June, according to Olympic Center general manager Terry Buczkowski.
Still, there is definitely something to celebrate this week. After 10 months of rebuilding, people will soon be skating again on the historic Lake Placid speed skating oval. ORDA announced the opening late Tuesday afternoon.
“The oval occupies a preponderant place in Olympic history“ ORDA President and CEO Mike Pratt said in a press release. “The work we have done at this iconic venue will dramatically improve the experience for public skaters, developing athletes and elite competitors. Anyone who skates on the oval will discover their special place in the history of Lake Placid.
The oval is part of the Olympic Centre’s new high-efficiency four-rink refrigeration system, and a renovated athlete tunnel connects the two facilities under Cummings Road. The upgrades are designed to extend the skating season, starting earlier and ending later, with more even ice and the oval’s white-dyed concrete to reduce the effects of sun absorption.
“The updated geometry brings the facility into line with the requirements so that it can once again host high-level international competitions. “ read the press release.
The facility includes two new guest lean-tos, new LED lighting and will have a new skate rental cabin (yet to be built) and a new hockey box.
A 400-meter speed skating oval – located across from Lake Placid High School – was first built on this property in 1930 for the III Olympic Winter Games in 1932. It was part of the Olympic Stadium , which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, speed skating, part of the hockey schedule, dog sled races (a demonstration sport) and the start and finish of the 18-kilometer cross-country skiing. Lake Placid speed skater Jack Shea won gold medals at the 1932 Olympics in the 500 and 1,500-meter races.
The oval was reconstructed for the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 and named James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval in honor of local speed skating legend and community leader James C. “Rabbit” Sheffield, who died in 1976. Construction began in early 1977 and was completed in late fall, in time for the 1978 world speed skating championships, according to the official Olympics report winter of 1980. It was here that American speed skater Eric Heiden won an unprecedented five gold medals in the 1980 Games, claiming an Olympic record by sweeping all men’s races.
The 1980 timing building was razed to make way for a new support building, which will be used for scoring and timing and to house a Zamboni, doctor’s office and washrooms.
The FISU World University Speed Skating Championships will be held here from March 2-5.
To celebrate the improvements, the ORDA is inviting the public to free public skating sessions on Thursday, January 6 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Free hot chocolate will be served.
According to the Regional Office for Sustainable Tourism, public skating on the oval this weekend will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday; 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
COVID-19 protocols will be in place this winter, including capacity restrictions, mask requirements, advanced online ticketing, and security signage and communications. COVID-19 protocols are detailed on the ORDA websites. Learn more at www.lakeplacidlegacysites.com.