Mazdzer’s masses: Large turnout for luge watch party

A fan shows her appreciation for NBC’s “Today” show, which featured a live broadcast from the Ice Palace in Saranac Lake this morning. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Hundreds of people gathered at the Winter Carnival Ice Palace at 7:30 this morning to watch the Olympic luge team relay and cheer on local hero Chris Mazdzer.

The official “watch party” was filmed by NBC, and a clip appeared on this morning’s “Today” show. On the air, NBC said the crowd numbered more than 700 people, but Mayor Clyde Rabideau said local police estimated it at 1,000.

The U.S. team ended up placing fourth, out of the medals, but Mazdzer won a silver medal Sunday in the men’s singles competition.

Saranac Lake Middle School students showed up at the Ice Palace before classes, where they waved flags, cheered and held signs in the air.

Sixth-grader Addison Dann said on a normal morning she would be in English language arts, probably working on an essay.

A cutout of Chris Mazdzer appears to be looking out over the massive crowd assembled at the Winter Carnival Ice Palace this morning for a watch party to view the luge team relay race live from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“I think it’s very cool that our whole town got together and we got to share it,” she said.

Tom Dudones said luge is a favorite of his.

“In 1980 after the Olympics they were offering luge training,” said Dudones. “For two weeks every day I got to train. This was on the old luge track. I got to train with some future Olympians — Cammy Myler and Bonny Warner. Bonny Warner went to the Olympics in ’84, and Cammy Myler went in ’88, I think. It was great fun.”

Watching the giant TV screen above the crowd, Dudones related the experience of being at the top of the luge run: “They’re sitting still, and you wonder what they’re doing. They’re visualizing that entire run in their head, because once you start, you don’t have time to think about it.”

The Winter Carnival king, Clyde Baker, stood with the queen, the princess, chamberlain and archbishop, who were all in their royal robes. “We tried to turn them in, but they told us it’s a year-long thing,” said Baker.

A crowd of hundreds gathered in front of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace Thursday morning to cheer for hometown hero Chris Mazdzer, who was racing with his USA Luge teammates in the relay event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“As we’ve been saying all week,” he said, looking at the crowd, “only in Saranac Lake!”

Cheryl Craft, whose 12-year-old daughter was somewhere in the crush of middle school kids, said she would have brought her to the event even if the school hadn’t. She said it was good for her daughter to be able to enjoy the community coming together.

“I’m really happy to be here, and happy it’s a bit of a warm spell,” said Craft. “We’re enthused and we’re comfortable.” The temperature was just above at race time.

Superintendent of Saranac Lake schools Diane Fox said, “We’re excited to have our middle schoolers here. It’s wonderful to see the crowd.”

Chants of “USA, USA,” greeted the beginning of the luge event on the TV. There was some suspense with the live feed from the Olympics, which began with hockey. Organizers struggled for a while with getting the right event live on screen.

A large crowd gathers at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace this morning to watch the luge finals as part of a live broadcast. (Photo provided — Jordan Craig)

Roberta Frederick said ordinarily she’d be sitting in her kitchen, having a second cup of coffee. She watches the “Today” show regularly.

“I love Hoda,” said Frederick.

Jack Fogarty was there with his wife Emily and son Terrence.

“It’s wonderful, and the turnout is wonderful,” Jack said.

“I’ve taught some of these guys,” he added, naming past local Olympians. “Billy Demong, Tim Burke — my son Terrence grew up with Duncan Kennedy. They did a lot of skiing together when they were kids.”

Even Chris Mazdzer's dog Obi was in the huge crowd at Thursday's gathering at the Ice Palace. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Overhead, a drone filmed the cheering crowd clustered around the Ice Palace. Fire trucks and police vehicles on Lake Flower Avenue managed the traffic. Toddlers sat on their fathers’ shoulders and enjoyed looking over the grownups’ heads.

“This is unbelievable,” said John O’Kelly, grandmaster of Northeast Taekwondo downtown. “It’s an amazing gathering of spirit and community.”

“I love it,” said his wife Lidia O’Kelly. “We’re making history. Where else but Saranac Lake would you have all these people standing around in the freezing cold?”

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival royalty gathers with the crowd this morning at the Ice Palace for a live broadcast of the luge watching party. (Enterprise photo — Catherine Moore)