The 1970’s began a big run for Mt. Van Hoevenberg (a Lake Placid Legacy Site) that would catapult it even further into world renown. The track was scheduled to host two World Championships in 1973 and 1978, it was also awarded to bid to host the Olympic Winter Games in 1974. Lake Placid joined a unique list of only three cities to have hosted the Olympic Winter Games twice.
Leading up to the 70’s, the fate of the U.S. Bobsled team was on the decline—as technologically advanced as they were in the earlier part of the century, they were now trailing “The Big Four”– Austria, East Germany, West Germany and Switzerland.
The major reason for the decline was training time. In the 1970’s most sliding tracks were natural track relying on snow and ice to form the curves during the winter months. The Austrians had an amazing, new refrigerated run in Innsbruck and this allowed training as early as October. German tracks soon followed the Austrian’s lead but Lake Placid still used ice blocks and slush scraped smooth, for all but the refrigerated finish curve.
Prior to refrigeration, sled technology was often the deciding factor in a race. Natural ice was bumpy, so driving skill and sled steering were critical to success. Refrigerated ice was much smoother, so the initial push was where races were won or lost. This development changed the nature of the athletes, as top world class sprinters, decathletes and football players came into the sport.
When ‘The Big Four” came to Lake Placid in 1978 for the World Championships, they had already completed hundreds of runs on the refrigerated tracks of Europe. The U.S. team could not train on the natural ice in Lake Placid until mid-January and had made fewer than 20 runs. In fact, the event was billed as the 1978 World Bobsled Championships, but it could have been called “The Big Four” against the World. In the end, sleds from the Big Four countries took seven of the first eight places, but despite long odds, the U.S. No. 1 sled, driven by Marine Sergeant Paul Vincent from Keene Valley, N.Y., crept into the sixth place spot in the 4-Man race. It was the best American finish in the World Championships since 1969.
The 1978 Worlds marked the final runs on the 48-year-old track at Mt Van Hoevenberg, built for the 1932 Winter Olympics. That summer in preparation for the 1980 Winter Olympics the old track was given a facelift. The remodeled track followed the 1932 path from the mile start but a new, $2.9 million concrete refrigerated course made it possible for the U.S. to be competitive again.
A new luge track was also built between fall 1977 and February 1979. It was the first luge track in North America and, also the last Winter Olympics that would have separate bobsleigh and luge tracks.
Lake Placid has hosted 2 Olympic Winter Games, 11 World Championships and countless other International and national events and our area has seen many local and regional athletes participate and achieve success in the sport. We embrace our long history and hope you join us next year and we celebrate 90 years of sliding sports at Mt. Van Hoevenberg with the Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships in February 2021.