Racing with Death: The Not-So-Ordinary Happenings of the 1932 Lake Placid Olympic Bobsled Events


During the practice sessions for the 1932 Olympic bobsled events, Lake Placid’s Mt. Van Hoevenberg slide endured multiple crashes involving over a dozen athletes. An analysis of the slide from inception to construction to competition as well as the resulting management of the accidents produces significant historical insight into the administration of the winter Olympic games. Using David Welky’s paradigm suggesting that the analyses of ordinary Olympic happenings can be used to probe larger issues, this analysis uses the “seemingly mundane” happenings of facility construction and competition to provide historical insight into an attempt to use the Olympics as a promotional springboard to a host city’s future commercial success. As the first sliding facility built in North America dedicated to both an Olympic games and for future commercial programming, this analysis also provides significant historical insight into modern Olympic issues including the fiduciary conundrum of building Olympic facilities with potentially limited post-Olympic commercial possibilities, the sometimes contentious nature of a host city’s environmental stewardship and the final location of those facilities as it pertains to the facilities’ future commercial success, and the nationalistic-laden gamesmanship that often plays out on these facilities during the administration of practice sessions and Olympic competition that can result in decision-making that potentially jeopardizes the safety of the athlete.