Lake Placid, N.Y. — Gliding down the olympic bobsled course on the last run of the day is a very large raccoon. The crowd roars its approval as he comes into sight. Roni Raccoon, the official Winter Olympics mascot, waves his man-sized paw at the sports fans. And even though the "raccoon's" time places him last, it's worth a gold medal for fun.
This scene, and others like it, enlivend the festivities and kept the spectators amused at the various venues throughout the entire two weeks of these 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games.
Behind the raccoon mask and under the raccoon outfit all that time was Kriss Lambert, a young man who earlier had taken roni raccoon across the nation to promote the olympics.
The raccoon, which appears on pins and souvenirs, was the official mascot for the games. Kriss came up with the idea of portrayin Roni in person, eventhough there has never been a "live" Olympic mascot before, and the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee went along with it.
"Sine I am somewhat of an athlete, I thought it would be a good idea to have a character that could imitate the athletes," he says.
"Somewhat of an athlete" is an understatement from fresh-faced Kriss, a native of Cape Cod, Mass. In 1973, at age 13, he won the Junior Olympic gold medal in judo.
He was doing construction work in the Adirondacks before he decided to become a full-time raccoon.
Roni Raccoon has been all over the United States -- including Los Angeles; New York City, for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade an NBC-TV's "Today" show; and Memphis.
At Lake Placid, Roni has -- with the help of Olympic coaches an athletes -- performed every eent except the ski jump, which he can't do because the mask hinders his vision. His prowess isn't accidental: He has practiced acrobatic skiing for nearly six years an has ice-skated since he was a child.
Kriss worked long hours daily throughout the olympics getting to one event an then another -- all, of course, in costume. But it was more like play than work , he said.
"The hardest part was to get each of the federations to let me come in and do my thing. They thought I might mess up the course. I can unerstand their concern. I wouldn't want to hurt anathlete's chances of winning."
Kriss says he may not return to construction work, although he is comfortable in the freezing climate of the Adirondacks. His mother is Hawaiian, and he may apply to the University of Hawaii. Not much chance for mascot work there: The Hawaii teams are called "Rainbows."