Norwich alumnus re-lights Olympic flame

On Feb. 12, Jim Craig, goalie for the 1980 USA gold medal ice hockey team, kicked off the 25th Anniversary of the Lake Placid Olympic Games by lighting the torch at the Olympic Stadium. While Craig may have been the man of the hour, the hero behind the scenes was arguably Dennis Ryan '76. As chairman of the Olympic Torch Restoration Committee, Ryan was given the awesome task of bringing the torch back to life after a quarter-century of neglect. To learn more about this extraordinary feat, read the following article that ran in the Press Republican on December 8, 2004.

By Ned Rauch

Republished by permission from The Press Republican, a division of Ottoway Newspapers.

Dennis Ryan had the look of an osprey in its nest: proud of his catch and maybe a bit nervous. Perched a few dozen feet above the North Elba Horse Show grounds on the rim of the Olympic torch cauldron, his legs hooked through the iron bars of what looked like a 6-foot-wide circular grill. A news cameraman had to coax him into smiling long enough for a good picture before he went back to screwing the new piece into place.

One piece at a time, like a bird building its nest, Ryan has led the restoration of the 1980 Olympic Torch, with the hope of having it ready for the 25th anniversary of Lake Placid’s second Winter Games. The village also hosted the games in 1932.

But, while other, more visible Olympic remnants have been maintained and upgraded regularly -- all the Olympic venues, from the bobsled run to the ski jumps to Whiteface Mountain are in world-class condition -- the torch, the very symbol of the Olympic movement, has languished.

On the snow-covered ground, Ryan explained that beneath the veneer, the three steel legs that support the cauldron were badly rusted and had to be sandblasted. He recalled how in 1989, when the community was preparing for the 10th anniversary and plans were drawn to ignite the torch, no one knew where to find the burner. A tip finally led Ryan to the town garage, where he found the burner rusting out back among other debris. Materials, know-how and labor contributed by area gas and utility companies for free produced a new burner.

The torch is being reborn, too. The Lake Placid Olympic Torch Restoration Committee, which Ryan chairs, has raised more than half of the $50,000 it needs to complete the renovation.

"We’re going to restore it, preserve it and make it the historical site that it deserves to be," Ryan said.

Every time the torch has been lighted since the 1980 Games -- most recently in 2002 as Olympic flame passed through Lake Placid on its way to Salt Lake City and shortly thereafter in honor of the late Jack Shea -- organizers have had to scramble for a way to do it. Winging it will soon be a thing of the past, as all of the torch's working parts will actually work.

The brick base on which it stands will be improved, and across the field, somewhere between the torch and Route 73, will be an elevated observation platform, complete with informative plaques and photographs.

Dennis Ryan and Olympic torchThe platform will be dedicated to the memory of Godfrey Dewey, son of Lake Placid Club founder Melvil Dewey and the man universally credited with bringing the 1932 Winter Games to Lake Placid.

Not all of that will be ready by the time the village begins celebrating the 25th anniversary this February, Ryan said.

But the torch -- 49 feet tall from its base -- will be functional, and the flame will burn.