Welcoming the world at the Opening Ceremony

Picture by IOC

Dewey promptly took up the role of President of the Olympic Organising Committee, ordering work to commence as quickly as possible. The Olympic Stadium, with an ice rink at its centre, was built to host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as the speed skating competition and half of the ice hockey matches.

An adjoining 4,500-seater arena, where the Games’ first-ever indoor figure skating competition, the remaining hockey matches and the curling demonstration event would be staged, was also promptly erected.

A publicity campaign was subsequently launched, including posters, leaflets and stickers that were distributed nationwide, while the thorny issue of accommodation was addressed by asking the owners of hotels and boarding houses to keep their establishments open for the winter and to make any necessary refurbishments that would allow them to do so.

The bobsleigh track was built on Mount Van Hoevenberg, on land belonging to the Dewey family, under the watchful eye of a well-versed German engineer, Stanislaus Zentzytzki. Upon completion, the 2,366m-long run featuring 26 turns was able to welcome some 14,000 spectators. The construction was sufficiently solid to be used again at the Winter Games of 1980, and remains in use to this day for luge, skeleton and bobsleigh races.

Finally, the existing Intervales Ski Hill was extended, modernised and surrounded by stands.

In February 1930, the Organising Committee sent out invitations to 65 countries, from Albania to Venezuela. However, due to the global economic downturn that would become known as the Great Depression, only 17 delegations, representing 252 athletes (including 32 women), would eventually travel to Lake Placid.

Seven official disciplines were placed on the sporting programme (bobsleigh, Nordic combined, ice hockey, figure skating, men’s speed skating, ski jumping and cross-country skiing), totalling 14 distinct events, while three other demonstration sports – curling, women’s speed skating and sled dog racing – were also included.

The Lake Placid Games would be broadcast on the radio in their entirety, with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) sending special correspondents to the various sites, which were adapted to enable media representatives to work from there directly.

The Opening Ceremony took place on a beautiful, bright morning on 4 February 1932. Competitors paraded around the stadium in the presence of IOC President Henri de Baillet-Latour, United States Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage and New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. Curiously, the British delegation was made up of just four female figure skaters; Mollie Phillips therefore became the first woman to carry a national flag at an Olympic opening ceremony.

Jack Shea, a speed skater from Lake Placid, recited the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes present, before Roosevelt, who would become President of the United States in November of that year, declared the Games open.

The first heats in the 500m speed skating got underway as soon as the official proceedings drew to a close. Just like at St. Moritz 1928, the organisers would often be left at the mercy of the weather during the competition. Indeed, incessant rain and a lack of snow, which was eventually shipped in by train from Canada, disrupted many of the competitions.