LAKE PLACID — The full mission hasn’t been accomplished yet at the 400-meter Olympic Speedskating Oval, as construction is not yet complete; however, it will reach a major milestone today when it reopens — as promised — for public skating before Christmas.
A state Olympic Regional Development Authority employee was brushing snow off the new ice with a Bobcat Tuesday morning — just as the winter solstice began — while crews continued to work on projects, such as the construction of a temporary storage shelter and the new support building. Visitors on opening week 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. 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 certainly something to celebrate this week. After 10 months of reconstruction, people will soon be skating again on Lake Placid’s historic speedskating oval. ORDA announced the opening late Tuesday afternoon.
“The oval holds tremendous prominence within Olympic history,” ORDA President and CEO Mike Pratt said in a press release. “The work we’ve done at this iconic venue will vastly improve the experience for public skaters, developing athletes, and elite competitors. Everyone who skates at the oval discovers their special place in the story of Lake Placid.”
The oval is part of the Olympic Center’s new four-rink high-efficiency refrigeration system, and a refurbished athlete tunnel connects both facilities underneath Cummings Road. The upgrades are designed to extend the skating season, starting earlier and ending later, with more consistent ice, and the oval’s white-dyed concrete to decrease the effects of sun absorption.
“Updated geometry brings the facility into compliance with requirements for it to host high-level international competitions once again,” the press release stated.
The facility includes two new lean-tos for guests, new LED lighting, and will have a new skate rental cabin (yet to be built) and a new hockey box.
A 400-meter speedskating oval — located in front of the Lake Placid Middle-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, speedskating, part of the hockey schedule, sled-dog races (a demonstration sport) and the start and finish of the 18-kilometer cross-country ski race. Lake Placid speedskater Jack Shea won gold medals during the 1932 Olympics for the 500- and 1,500-meter races.
The oval was rebuilt for the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 and named the James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval to honor local speedskating legend and community leader James C. “Bunnie” Sheffield, who had died in 1976. Construction began in early 1977 and was completed late that fall, in time for the 1978 World Sprint Speed Skating Championships, according to the official report for the 1980 Winter Olympics. This was where U.S. speedskater Eric Heiden won an unprecedented five gold medals during the 1980 games, claiming an Olympic record as he swept all the 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, medical office and restrooms.
The FISU World University Speedskating Championships will be held here from March 2 to 5.
The oval was expected to open at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 23, according to ORDA, which is inviting the public to complimentary public skating sessions on Thursday, Jan. 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Free hot chocolate will be served.
According to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, public skating on the oval this weekend will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday; 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
COVID-19 protocols will be in place this winter, including capacity restrictions, mask requirements, online advanced ticketing, and safety signage and communications. The COVID-19 protocols are detailed on ORDA’s websites. Learn more at www.lakeplacidlegacysites.com.