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Olympic highlights

February 26, 2014 - Chris Knight
With the Sochi games a thing of the past, here's my top four highlights of covering our local athletes at the Olympics:

1. Weibrecht grabs silver

Raise your hand if you saw this coming? Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid proved he wasn't a one-trick pony, he was still the warhorse!

After grabbing a surprise bronze medal in the super giant slalom at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Weibrecht struggled with a string of injuries and hadn't found the podium since. He changed equipment companies and was demoted to the "B" alpine team. There were questions about whether he'd make this year's Olympic team. He said after winning the silver medal in the same event in Sochi that he had questioned how much longer he wanted to stay in the sport "as recently as yesterday."

Being there when he charged down that course, cheering for him from the photo stand and shaking his hand after it was all said and done made this a special moment for me.

Nancie Battaglia aptly described what it was like for me in an interview with North Country Public Radio that aired Monday.

"Andrew did so well, it was really fun listening to and watching Chris Knight, who of course it was his first Olympics and first probably major medal and he had been, you know, talking with Andrew and watching Andrew and to have him pop a good one was pretty exciting and it was pretty exciting for me to see, you know Chris just kind of doing backflips down in the media area."

2. Bailey makes history

This is another example of seeing an athlete go from such a low point to the heights of redemption. Only this time, it was over a matter of days, not years.

Lake Placid's Lowell Bailey came into this Olympics riding one of his best seasons in years, with multiple top 20 finishes. His first two races in Sochi were disappointing: 35th in the 10-kilometer sprint and 38th in the 12.5-k pursuit.

“I was just so down,” he said after that second race. “You spend your whole life working for something then see it fall apart in a matter of 35 minutes."

With the help of his coaches and his mom, Bailey stepped back, got some perspective and, in his next race, put down the best-ever Olympic finish for the U.S. in biathlon, an eighth-place in the 20-kilometer individual. He missed only one of 20 shots. If he hadn't missed that one shot, we'd be talking about him as an Olympic medalist. But he said he wasn't going to let that bother him.

"No one's perfect," he said. "It's a really hard sport to be perfect in. Today, this was the best race I was capable of."

3. First venue visit

The first day after arriving in Sochi's mountain cluster, a few days before the games started, I got a chance to visit the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center. I figured it would be a good chance to explore a site where I'd be spending a lot of time covering local biathletes Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Annelies Cook.

To get there, I had to ride one of the longest ski lifts in the world at 3,838 meters, or roughly 12,500 feet. When I arrived, to put it simply, I was blown away. Nestled at the crest of high ridge at roughly 4,500 feet in elevation, the venue is spectacular. Everywhere you look, you see rocky, snow-capped mountains.

But it wasn't just the view that made this first venue visit special. After getting directions from one of the venue's press managers, I found the tunnels that go underneath the stadium. One of them brought me up to its floor, next to the shooting range. I stood there in wonder at where I was, in the middle of this amazing Olympic venue where so many talented athletes from around the world had come to compete.

Then who should ski up to the range? Saranac Lake's Annelies Cook. She said hi and we chatted for a bit. There wasn't anything terribly significant that was said, but for me it was just a special moment to have traveled half way around the world to this amazing place, and there was a familiar face, the first local I had run into since arriving.

If there was anyone I felt more of a connection to during these games it was Annelies because it was her first Olympics and it was my first Olympics.

4. Ski jumpers just want to have fun

This was a tough Olympics for the U.S. ski jumping team, including Saranac Lake's Peter Frenette. None of the four - the others being Anders Johnson, Nick Alexander and Nick Fairall - made the finals in any of their three events: the normal hill, the large hill or the team competition.

While I'm sure that was deeply disappointing to them, it was refreshing to see these young guys – Alexander, the oldest, is 25 – make the most out of their time in Sochi. They took in a bunch of other events together and seemed to have a great time soaking up the Olympic experience.

Most of what I heard about came through their posts on Twitter, like Frenette and Johnson's beard-growing efforts, funny pictures of themselves in their opening ceremonies sweaters and ripping out the changing room wall between the U.S. and the Canadian ski jumping teams. Frenette also posted a series of hand-drawn sketches, including of his roommate Johnson and nordic combined athlete Taylor Fletcher.

At their final event, the team competition, the U.S. jumpers knew it would be tough to find the podium, so they just tried to have fun. They wore stick-on stars-and-stripes moustaches and American flag decals on their faces.

"I came in here expecting to compete well, and I didn't really do that, but I made it here and had fun," Frenette said. "I'm at the Olympics having a good time. It's a great accomplishment to even make it, so I've got to remember that."


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