First Olympic week is a roller coaster

A flag-waving crowd of hundreds — including Winter Carnival royalty, at front right — arrived in front of Saranac Lake’s Ice Palace early Thursday morning for a live viewing of hometown hero Chris Mazdzer racing with the U.S. luge team at the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

What a bunch of highs and lows this first half of the Winter Olympics has been for our local athletes.

Of course, Chris Mazdzer’s silver medal in luge is the high point. It brought cheers and tears to people in Saranac Lake who know him and his family, and it brought hundreds, perhaps even 1,000 people out to the Ice Palace Thursday morning to watch him race again as in the luge team relay.

The U.S. team placed a frustrating fourth in that race, just out of the medals, and the local gathering had its weaknesses as well. For a long time, organizers couldn’t figure out how to show luge on the enormous TV, so Mazdzer’s masses watched hockey until someone figured it out. NBC didn’t send its “Today” show correspondent as planned, relying instead on a reporter from Plattsburgh’s NBC 5. The throng was only shown for a few seconds on the “Today” show, and not at all when NBC broadcast the luge relay that night.

But the massive crowd of happy people speaks for itself. Look at them in the photos in today’s North Country Living section, and you can see everything you need to know about this Adirondack village’s spirit. We are so proud to call Saranac Lake home.

But oh, the lows of this first Olympic week! Several of our Adirondack athletes were laid low before they even got to race. Maddie Phaneuf of Old Forge got sick and was forced to miss her biathlon races. Her teammate Susan Dunklee of Vermont got sick as well, and although she still raced, she went from being a medal contender to 66th place in the sprint, thereby missing the pursuit. She did better in the individual, though, breaking into the top 20.

Alpine skier Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid gets air on a training run Feb. 8 at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. He missed a gate and did not finish his only Olympic run. (Photo — Andreas Pranter/GEPA pictures/Sipa USA, via AP)

Alpine ski races were postponed due to high winds, and then Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene ruptured his Achilles tendon in training and had to miss his two races. He will have to sit out the rest of the season, too, and faces a long rehabilitation. He already had to come back from a horrible injury to make it here to his first Olympics, and after years and years of working up to this moment, this happened. It’s heartbreaking.

His alpine teammate Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid got to ski in just one event, the Super-G, in which he won a silver medal in the 2014 Olympics and bronze in the 2010. But unlike other alpine races, there’s just one run in Super-G. Weibrecht caught too much air over a jump, missed a gate, skied off course, and that was that.

Risk taking is a big part of the game in Super-G, and Weibrecht knew his only chance was to go for it. Sometimes that doesn’t work out.

Local biathlon heroes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey have also struggled in these Olympics, although Burke managed an incredible achievement by moving up 30 places in the pursuit event. Still, no American biathletes qualified for the exciting mass start events this weekend, which is a tough pill to swallow.

But this is the nature of sports: highs and lows, good days and bad, victory and defeat. It wouldn’t have room for greatness if it didn’t have room for crashing out as well.

Alpine skier Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene finishes a training run Feb. 8 at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. He got hurt in a training run a few days later and could not race. (Photo — Mathias Mandl/GEPA pictures/Sipa USA, via AP)

Saranac Lake pediatrician Dr. Patricia Monroe made a good point after Mazdzer won the silver medal. “You know what the best part of that whole Olympics was?” she said. “His mother was just as excited at the end of the first race as she was at the end of the fourth.”

Winning isn’t everything. It feels great to finish at the top, but Chris Mazdzer’s mother was cheering just as hard for his first run as for the one that finally put him on the podium. The big crowd at the Ice Palace didn’t show up just because Mazdzer won a silver medal. Look at the parades Lake Placid and Saranac Lake have put on to welcome their Olympians home. Huge crowds came out with signs and banners and autograph seekers for all our hometown heroes, no matter how they placed. That was the spirit at work Thursday morning.

No matter how our local Olympians do, we love watching them and have deep respect for their years of hard, painstaking work. We will keep cheering this week at the biathlon relays and bobsled races, and we look forward to throwing them a big party when they get home this time, too.

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