Editor’s note: As the Winter Olympic Games start in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Steamboat Today has partnered with the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum on a series of articles that reflect on past Winter Olympic Games, beginning with the first Winter Olympics in 1924. This is the seventh installment in that series.
For the second time, the Winter Games were hosted by Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980, since the only other competitor was Vancouver, British Columbia, and they withdrew from the bid before the final vote.
President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because of the Cold War, but both the United States and the Soviet Union took part in the Winter Games. Thirty-seven nations competed with 1,072 athletes from Feb. 13 to Feb. 24. Lichtenstein became the smallest participating country to produce an Olympic champion when Hanni Wenzel won the women’s giant slalom and slalom events.
Since Olympic memorabilia became popularized by 1980, the Olympic mascots were two raccoons, Roni and Ronny. The animal’s natural mask reflects the hat and goggles worn by athletes in many winter sports events. Many critics complained about the poorly planned transportation and the Olympic village accommodations, which were later turned into prison cells. However, artificial snow was used in Olympic competition for the first time at Lake Placid.
Compiled of mostly collegiate athletes, the upstart U.S. ice hockey team entered the Winter Games as the underdog and surprised the world by winning gold against favored Finland and the USSR. This achievement, referred to as “Miracle On Ice,” was later made into a 2004 movie, “Miracle.”
In the medal tally, the United States finished third with 12 medals (six gold, four silver and two bronze). Leah Poulos-Mueller won silver in the women’s 500- and 1,000-meter speed skate events, and Beth Heiden went home with a bronze medal in the women’s 3,000-meter event. Linda Fratianne was awarded a silver for her performance in the ladies singles figure skate, and Charles Tickner earned a bronze in the men’s singles figure skate. The only American to place in any Alpine events was Phil Mahre, who won a silver in the men’s slalom event.
Eric Heiden became the first person to win five gold medals in individual events during one Olympiad. Setting four Olympic records and one world record, Heiden won the 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter speed skating events.
A member of the 1980 and 1988 U.S. Olympic Ski Teams, Gary Crawford is a native of Denver and competed internationally in Nordic combined for 12 years.
He skied for 2 1/2 years for Western State College in Gunnison after competing for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. In the Nordic combined event, Crawford placed 28th in 1980 and 41st in the 1988 Winter Games, and also competed in the 1982 World Championships.
Afterward, he became a top-level golfer, coached with the Ability Team for three years and was the head golf professional at the Sheraton Steamboat Golf Club. As the Nordic combined development coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Crawford is still involved with skiing.
His father, Marvin Crawford, competed at the 1956 Winter Olympics in the Nordic combined and cross-country events.
1984 Winter Olympics
The first Winter Games held in a socialist country were hosted by Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) from Feb. 8 to Feb. 19, 1984. A record 49 countries and 1,272 athletes arrived to compete in 39 winter sports events. Vucko, a wolf cub, was chosen as the official Olympic mascot. Egypt, Monaco, Puerto Rico, Senegal and the Virgin Islands made their Winter Games debut, and the Republic of China entered the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei.”
During the peaceful and beautiful 1984 Winter Olympics, there was no indication of the tragic civil war that would engulf Yugoslavia eight years later.
The only major problem that arose was a huge snowfall during the games, which delayed the Alpine skiing events.
For the first time, disabled skiing was an Olympic demonstration sport, with 29 participants in this event. These races were held in addition to the Alpine and cross-country events at the 1984 Winter Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Additionally, a 20-kilometer race was added to the women’s Nordic events.
Yugoslavia’s first Winter Olympics medal was won by Jure Franko, who placed second in the giant slalom.
The United States went home with eight medals (four gold and four silver), placing third in the medal tally.
Scott Hamilton was awarded a gold medal for the men’s singles figure skating, and Rosalynn Sumners won a silver in the ladies singles figure skating. Another silver medal went to Kitty and Peter Carruthers in the pairs figure skating, but the rest of the medals were won in Alpine skiing events.
John McMurtry, the slalom and giant slalom coach for the 1984 U.S. Women’s Ski Team, remembers Sarajevo as their best Olympics ever.
The U.S. Olympic Ski Team took five out of 18 total possible medals in Alpine skiing, more than any other country had done previously.
Bill Johnson became the first American man to win a gold medal in the downhill event. Twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre took gold and silver in the men’s slalom, respectively. For the women, Deb Armstrong earned gold, and Christin Cooper took silver in the giant slalom.
Armstrong, as the first U.S. gold medalist in a women’s Alpine event since Andrea Mead-Lawrence in 1952, has an impressive skiing record.
She placed second in the combined event at the 1983 U.S. Nations and was third in the World Cup super-G in 1984.
After winning the 1984 women’s giant slalom in Sarajevo, Debbie placed fourth in the giant slalom at the 1985 World Championships and sixth in the super-G in 1987. With a World Cup career of 18 top-10 finishes, she retired from ski racing after the 1988 World Cup season.
Afterward, Armstrong began promoting various humanitarian causes, including the Debbie Armstrong Say No to Alcohol & Drugs Campaign, SKIFORALL Foundation, and Glocal ReLeaf Sarajevo. Today, she works at the Alpine Technical Director for Steamboat Springs Ski & Snowboard School.