Note: Tom Sweeney was a Star Tribune photographer for 39 years and was on assignment for the Minneapolis Star newspaper at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
My hotel room for the 1980 Olympics was a room once used for patients in the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, a stately English manor style building from the 1920s that served as a sanitarium for tuberculosis sufferers.
It had been shuttered in 1975 and reopened (and renamed the “Hillside Hotel”) only for the Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The hotel was 13 miles from the town center and ice arena, and the only transportation was not-so-regular shuttle buses. I rode that bus on Feb. 22, 1980, on the way back from photographing history.
My room’s bathroom had French doors with glass panels, which I had to cover to keep light out. The days before digital were literally the dark ages of photography. Film had to be developed in absolute darkness, and prints made under very dim orange safelights. Resin-coated (RC) paper had recently been invented, so my prints could air-dry after being developed in chemical trays and washed in my room’s bathtub.
Then, the hard part, the least reliable part of the process. In this era, you attached your prints to a UPI drum machine, and this typewriter-sized machine scanned the photo and sent a signal through a telephone connection. It took just under 10 minutes to send a single black-and-white photo.
Forty years later, as I looked back through a box of these prints, I found a handwritten note. It said I transmitted 75 photos over that two-week period. I shot skiing, the biathlon, speedskating and more. On the day of the gold medal game, two days after the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union, I managed to send seven pictures back to Minneapolis. Talk about a miracle.