U.S hockey team accepted the gold at the winter Olympics in Lake Placid? And who could possibly forget the lack of excitement generated by the more than 200 licensed products issued during the 1980 games? Running shorts, hockey pucks, tote bags, swizzle sticks, suspenders, plaques, posters, ice buckets, ashtrays, chewing tobacco, cookie molds, and " 12 ounces of Olympic snow" -- all emblazoned with the interlocking Olympic rings.

Lake Placid was the site of the first games to be held in the United States in 20 years and the first games to take place during modern merchandising times. "It was the first time that an attempt was made to take full commercial advantage of the situation," observes John Musgrave of JRM & Associates Inc., who supervised the licensing operation. The result, as far as many licensees were concerned, was that the market got spread much too thin.

"It was a complete disaster; I lost my shirt," says Pat Trush, president of CAOS Marketing Inc., of Cazenovia, N.Y., which fielded several Olympic products. "The games were not well publicized . . . and there were just too many licensees." She notes that the tote bag she sold had to compete with half a dozen similar "official" items. "It was an incredible problem," she complains.

Trush, who also heads Cazenovia Abroad Ltd., a silver-importing company, set up CAOS specifically to exploit the Lake Placid opportunity. "We went on the assumption that it would be a great run, so we brought in a lot of things very early," she explains, "and they just didn't sell. . .

"I had to issue a guarantee of $100,000 in royalties, which, frankly, I still haven't paid. . . . I simply lost too much money." CAOS wound up with $500,000 in unsold merchandise, some of which was unloaded at 10 cents on the dollar. Because it fared so badly in its debut, the company is no longer active.

Volna Promotions Inc., a Chicago-based company that marketed plastic products -- rulers, coasters, swizzle sticks, and key tags, for example -- also found the winter Olympics "a bad experience." Like Trush, Volna president Scott Galloway cites poor promotion, overlapping products, and an inexperienced Olympic committee as the cause of the problems. "They apparently thought that it was going to do itself," he explains. "They thought that the word 'Olympic' and the Olympic symbol were all that were necessary."

Volna did less than half the $1 million in sales it had projected and lost money on the project; like CAOS, it is now being sued by the Olympic committee. "They say we owe them some money," says Galloway "We say we don't."

One company that made out well was the Viletta China Co., in Fresno, Calif., which hit pay dirt with a $28.50 limited edition collector's plate. "We were very happy with the market, we were very happy with the support we received from the Olympic committee," says vice-president Tom O'Meara.

A number of licensees estimated that about half of the companies involved made money and half lost, a poor showing for such an outing. "There were a lot of very unhappy licensees," says Trush. "It wasn't very profitable for either the Olympics or the companies."

According to Musgrave, licensing brought in about $2 million in royalties "We never had the distribution that I felt we should have had," he admits.

"I've still got a whole lot of very nice Olympic porcelain coasters," notes Trush, "and if you know of anybody who wants some, I'd be happy to supply them -- $2 for a set of four."