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Lake Placid 1980

The 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid were the Games of Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in speed skating, and the USA ice hockey team, composed of college players, which defeated a supposedly unbeatable Soviet team 4-3 in the semi-final and Finland 4-2 in the decisive final round match.

ANECDOTE

"Inhuman" decision on Mount Van Hoevemberg

Makonamai Stadium, 1972: the FIS had just begun timing to the nearest 1/100th of a second and Juha Mieto (born 20 November 1949) was still a young skier. There in Sapporo he had already waited and been relegated to fourth place by 0.06 seconds by Norwegian Ivar Formo in the 15 km cross-country skiing event. This time, he stood near the finish in the ski stadium on Mount Van Hoevenberg and looked spellbound at the electronic scoreboard.

This time it was not the bronze medal he was worried about, but the first Olympic victory in an individual event that he so longed for. Thomas Wassberg (born 23 March 1956) had started the 15 km race four and a half minutes after Mieto, recorded the better split times and led by more than four seconds after 10 km. But then the gap became smaller as Mieto, a 1.96 m tall farmer from a small village 300 km north of Helsinki, appeared to have grown wings. The figures on the electronic scoreboard flickered, then stopped at 41:57.63. Wassberg had finished 1/100th of a second ahead of him, a gap equivalent to 59 mm. Wassberg wanted to share the gold medal with Mieto, but the Finn just said, “I am the runner-up.” However, the defeat hurt him for a long time afterwards.

While Wassberg retired in 1988 with four Olympic victories to his name (including two in relay events), Mieto won five Olympic medals by 1984, although the only gold was with the Finnish relay team in 1972. He also had to make do with two silvers and two bronzes in the World Championships, as well as three fourthplace finishes in the Olympic Games. Following the “inhuman” decision in the cross-country skiing in Lake Placid, the FIS decided to reverse its 1972 decision to introduce timing to the nearest 1/100th of a second. Since 1988, the Nordic skiing discipline has been timed to the nearest 1/10th of a second again.

TECHNOLOGY

Data processing equipment in timing devices

At the start of the 1979/80 Alpine skiing World Cup season, OMEGA used the Game-O-Matic for the first time in Val d’Isère. As soon each athlete crossed the finish line, it immediately calculated and displayed their current ranking. This timing system, with its own data processing equipment, was also used two months later at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. It met all the expectations of the Organising Committee, even though it had not been checked in advance either by the scoreboard suppliers or by the American TV companies, as stated in the Organising Committee’s official report. Not even the power failure which hit Lake Placid on 19 February affected the timekeeping, which operated independently of the electricity network.


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