Proud of our Olympic home teams

A teenaged Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, left, and Tim Burke of Paul Smiths smile at their first international biathlon race in the mid 1990s in Torsby, Sweden. Their coach at the time, Kris Cheney-Seymour, keeps this photo on the wall of his office at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross-Country Ski Center outside Lake Placid. (Photo provided — Kris Cheney-Seymour)

Over the last two weeks, our front pages have been filled with profiles of our local Olympians. We are rooting hard for them these winter Olympics, but we’re also rooting for everyone else on our home teams.

Those are biathlon, luge, bobsled and skeleton. The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, as well as USA Luge, have their headquarters here in Lake Placid, so they certainly are home teams. But biathlon is, too. While the U.S. Biathlon Association’s official headquarters are in Maine, its athletes train in Lake Placid and live here while doing so — just like luge, bobsled and skeleton athletes.

In those four sports, every single American competitor is, at least for many months of the year, a local resident. We may see them around town, maybe jogging on the roadside, shopping at the supermarket or out at a restaurant or bar. They call Lake Placid home, too.

Olympic medal competition in skeleton won’t begin until Wednesday, and bobsledding is the following week, but luge and biathlon start today, so they are very much on our minds right now.

Luge begins with men’s singles, with two heats today and medals being awarded after the final two tomorrow. For these men, including Saranac Lake’s own Chris Mazdzer, this weekend is their Olympics. Our hearts are with them, especially Chris, and we’re cheering in spirit alongside his wonderful parents, Dr. Ed and Marty Mazdzer of Saranac Lake. These are Chris’ third Olympics, and at just 29 years old he is the sport’s elder statesman in this country.

The women’s singles races are Monday and Tuesday. While we’re cheering for the whole team, we’ll have a little extra volume for Emily Sweeney, whose father is from Saranac Lake and who recently bought a house in Lake Placid, as well as luge veteran Erin Hamlin, the 2014 bronze medalist who hails from Remsen just outside the Adirondack Blue Line.

Doubles luge races are Wednesday. The U.S. guys are all deeply invested in Lake Placid, but we have to give an special shout-out to Justin Krewson, who is an active member of the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department. That’s how we met him in person — out at a fire, which turned out to be minor. That makes him about as local as one can get.

Biathlon is the sport with the most homegrown Adirondackers. Maddie Phaneuf, one of five women on the U.S. team, may have been born in South Carolina, but she was raised in the ski-happy Adirondack community of Old Forge, where her mother runs the local youth ski league. The folks at Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake know Janine Phaneuf because she brings big groups of young skiers up here for events such as paintball biathlon.

Women will fire the first shots in biathlon at this year’s Olympics with this morning’s sprint. The men’s sprint kicks off Sunday, with Adirondack biathlon veterans Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey leading the U.S. crew. Tim grew up in Paul Smiths while Lowell grew up in Old Forge and Lake Placid. Both live in Lake Placid now.

The story of Tim and Lowell is, in our mind, one of the most compelling in this year’s Olympics. These two 36-year-olds — Tim just celebrated his birthday on Feb. 3 — grew up skiing against each other from grade school on, and local ski coach Kris Seymour talked them both into trying biathlon when they were in middle school. They learned it together, went to their first international competition together in Sweden, climbed the ranks together, roomed together on the World Cup tour for many years, and have now gone to four Olympics together. For most of that time, they have been pretty much neck-and-neck in terms of competitive results, with one doing better one year and the other doing better the next. They were part of a generation of local nordic ski racers that also included Olympians Bill Demong, Haley Johnson and Annelies Cook. People think of that when they see their own kids skiing together at Dewey Mountain and Mount Van Hoevenberg. People can look around their local community and see how Lowell and Tim got where they are — not that it’s easy by any means, but that it’s a possible goal for a local kid, given this area’s recreational resources. The connection people feel to Lowell and Tim runs deep. Over the last four Olympiads, they have become heroes to kids growing up skiing here, and to many of their parents, too.

These will be their last Olympic Games racing together. Lowell plans to retire after this season and run a start-up sport center in Montana. Tim has said he may retire, too. It will be sad to see their era end, but in the meantime, we’re cheering extra-hard for them during these games.

And let’s not forget our homegrown alpine skiers, Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene and Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid. There’s a chance they will race in the downhill and definitely in the super-G. These races were scheduled for tonight and Wednesday night, Eastern time, but they may be postponed due to wind.

Remember, too, that it’s not just the athletes. Coaches, trainers, administrators and many others are also essential — as well as the family members and friends whose love and support are irreplaceable. Please think of them all as you cheer for your Adirondack home teams in these Olympics.

COMMENTS