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Home » About » Yannalaw: Law the Yannacone Way » Saving the 1980 Winter Olympics for America

Most people have seen the impressive gold medal victory of the amateur American Olympic ice hockey team against the professional Soviet Union national team memorialized in the 1981 TV documentary, Miracle on Ice, and the 2004 docudrama, Miracle, however, there is a hitherto untold back story about what it took to actually hold the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid.

In 1976, the Adirondack Park Agency was asked by the Lake Placid Olympic organizing committee to approve two new ski jump towers 70 and 90 meters at the site of the ski jump tower that was used during the 1936 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Objections were filed by individuals and organizations who believed that the new ski jump towers would negatively impact the “view scape” and the Adirondack Mountain experience in the region.

To meet the timetable imposed by the international Winter Olympic authorities, construction had to begin by April 1977 or the Winter Olympics would be moved to another country. In November 1976, the Adirondack Park Agency set the matter down for an administrative hearing and selected Yannacone as the Law Judge/hearing officer. This was going to be the first controverted hearing conducted under the recently enacted New York State Administrative Procedure Act.

During the preliminary discussions of procedural housekeeping issues, all the parties moved for Yannacone’s recusal, but on different grounds. The attorneys for the Lake Placid Olympic organizing committee argued that Yannacone was too closely associated with the Environmental Movement and could not fairly adjudicate the case in the face of opposition by environmental organizations. The environmental organizations, led by the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter complained that Yannacone had “sold out” to commercial interests and was no longer an “environmentalist.” Exercising the powers of a judicial officer, Yannacone denied the motions with leave to have them renewed at any time during the course of the trial hearing should any of the parties discover any evidence of bias. The motions were not renewed.