A new permanent exhibit sped into the Lake Placid Olympic Museum on May 23rd that celebrates one of the original Lake Placid winter sports — speed skating.
“Quest for Speed” features various displays explaining the history of the sport and its origins and impact in Lake Placid. Skaters profiled included local Olympic stars Charles Jewtraw and Jack Shea, and of course Wisconsin-native Eric Heiden, who won an unparalleled five gold medals at the 1980 Olympic Games. Museum director Alison Haas interviewed several champions in the sport to research the exhibit, in one case traveling to Salt Lake City to interview Eric Heiden.
Haas explained that the idea for the project began with the re-discovery of a scrapbook that belonged to Henry Uihlein II, which chronicled the early years of speed skating in the Lake Placid region, and also followed the athletic career of Charles Jewtraw, winner of the first Olympic gold ever awarded, in the 1924 Olympic Games. She noted that the first international sanctioned document that Lake Placid received to host the 1920 International Outdoor Amateur Speed Skating Championships was also in the book. Uihlein was “instrumental in bringing [the Championships] to our area,” said Haas. The process started when museum staff started digitizing the scrapbook in October, 2014. Fittingly, the exhibit was funded by the Henry Uihlein II and Mildred A. Uihlein Foundation.
Other records have indicated the depth of Uihlein’s investment and advocacy for speed skating goes deeper than just bringing events to the village. In a recent blogpost, Kim Reilly of ROOST/Lake Placid CVB showed how Lake Placid was launched onto the sports scene in the 1920s through the aforementioned speed skating event.
“Charles Jewtraw, James Hennessy, and Ray Bryant, referred to as the ‘Lake Placid Skating Trio,’ were the first in a long line of Lake Placid athletes to compete on the National, and then International scene,” Reilly wrote. “The three speed skaters were members of the thriving Lake Placid Skating Association. In 1920, the Association, led by President Henry Uihlein II, boasted a membership of 472, and trained on Mirror Lake.”
The Lake Placid Skating Association (whose name was later changed to the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club) also promoted the sport locally, with members advocating for speed skating at town meetings and hosting “fun races” on the lake for aspiring speed skaters. Speed skating continues locally today with races, training camps, and other events that often occur on the original 1932 Olympic Oval in Lake Placid.
“Lake Placid has a long history with some of speed skating’s greats that include: Charles Jewtraw (a Lake Placid native) who won the first gold medal ever awarded in an Olympic Games in the 500 meter speed skating event, Jeanne Ashworth the first U.S. female to win a medal for speed skating at an Olympic Games in 1960 trained in Lake Placid and made the region her home, [and] it’s where hometown hero Jack Shea won two gold medals at the 1932 Olympic Winter Games and was the host of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games where Eric Heiden won 5 gold medals. The history with speed skating is long and [Lake Placid] continues to nurture Olympic dreams,” Haas said.
The exhibit is also fun. A “Skate to the Beat” activity gives museum guests the opportunity to feel what it’s like to speed skate to a certain beat for pacing, an important skill in the time-driven sport. An authentic skin suit from the 2014 Olympics donated by US Speedskating and a custom clap skate (where the blade is hinged to allow longer contact with the ice), like those worn by elite competitors by Marchese Racing are also on display. Haas is confident that there is enough material to be displayed to keep the exhibit fresh.
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum in the Olympic Center is located at 2634 Main St., Lake Placid, and is open 10 am – 5 pm daily.
Photos from above: Visitors to the Quest for Speed exhibit try the “Skate to the Beat” activity (photo provided); Part of the display features all the attributes required to become a champion speed skater (photo by Christie Sausa); Jack Shea’s 1932 Olympic sweater and a panel about his impact on the sport in Lake Placid and worldwide (Christie Sausa); and Museum Director Alison Haas demonstrates the “Skate to the Beat” activity (Christie Sausa).