LAKE PLACID - From Syosset to Saratoga Springs, Cold Spring to Clarence, about 1,000 athletes will descend on this Adirondack Mountain village this weekend. The Empire State Winter Games are on, and that has Fred Smith smiling for a change.
"That's what they do," Smith said. "With the help of the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which runs events like this, they have the infrastructure. They can put something together and make it work, so we're very optimistic about the future of the Winter Games."
While Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Games for three decades, New York's huge budget deficit forced the cancellation of all 2011 Empire State Games competitions - the Winter, Summer and Senior Games - and placed their future in jeopardy.
Officials from the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, ORDA, the village of Lake Placid, town of North Elba and town of Wilmington responded almost overnight to create a coalition that saved the Winter Games, one of the premier events for the Lake Placid region.
"Winter Games are a perfect fit for Lake Placid. I think the village and the town and ORDA will do right by it well down the road in the future," said Smith, who these days faces an uphill struggle as a consultant for the Empire State Games.
Smith, who became an integral organizer of the Empire State Games in the 1980s, works out of an empty office in Albany. There is no state funding and the staff of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that once put together one of the signature amateur athletic competitions in the nation has been either laid off or re-assigned to other bureaus.
7:30 a.m. - Figure Skating IndFreestyle M/W Sr., Jr, Novice, Inter., Juvenile (1980 Rink, Olympic Center)
8 a.m. - Ice Hockey W Open (US Rink)
9 a.m. - Snowboard/Skier SBX, SX Qualifiers M/W 16-and-under, over 16 (Whiteface-P&P)
11 a.m. - Skeleton 2heat race M/W Open (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
1 p.m. - Biathlon Bia Sprint M/W Boy/Girl,Youth, Jr., Sr., Master, Grand Master (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
1-2 p.m. - Bobsled 2heat race M/W Open (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
4:30 p.m. - Figure Skating Syncro M/W Interm,Open Juvenile (1980 Rink)
6 p.m. - Opening ceremony (USA Rink)
8 a.m. - Figure Skating IndFreestyle M/W Sr., Jr, Novice, Inter., Juvenile (1980 Rink)
8 a.m. - Ice Hockey W Open (USA Rink)
9 a.m. - Cross Country Bia 10/5km Classic M/W Open, Scholastic, Masters (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
9 a.m. - Alpine GS M/W Open (Whiteface - Drapers)
9 a.m. - Adaptive Alpine Slalom M/W Physically Challenged Youth ages 5-21 (Whiteface)
9 a.m. - Snowshoe Sprint, M/W 14-and-under, over 14 (Petrova-Saranac Lake)
9 a.m. - Snowboard/Skier SBX, SX Time Trials/Finals M/W 16 and under, over 16 (Whiteface-P&P)
Noon - SnowShoe Distance M/W 14-and-under, over 14 (Mount Pisgah, Saranac Lake)
1 p.m. - Biathlon Individual Relay M/W Boy/Girl,Youth, Jr., Sr., Master, Grand Master (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
1 p.m. - ShortTrack SS Varying distances M/W boys/girls,Open, Scholastic (1932 Rink)
1 p.m. - Ski Orienteering 2starts every min M/W Open, Scholastic, Masters, Grand Masters (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
4:50 p.m. - Figure Skating Syncro M/W Interm,Open Juvenile (1980 Rink)
8 a.m. - Luge 2heat race M/W (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
8 a.m. - Ice Hockey W Open (US Rink)
8 a.m. - Short Track SS Varying distances M/W boys/girls, Open, Scholastic (1932 Rink)
8:30 a.m. - Figure Skating Ind Freestyle M/W Sr.,Jr, Novice, Inter., Juvenile (1980 Rink)
9 a.m. - Cross Country 10/5km Free Pursuit M/W Open, Scholastic, masters (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
9 a.m. - Adaptive XC M/W Sit, Visual Impaired, Standing (Mount Van Hoevenberg)
9 a.m. - Alpine Slalom M/W Open (Whiteface-Drapers)
3 p.m. - Bobsled 2heat race M/W Junior (Whiteface-Drapers)
The Cortland Regional Sports Council is giving the Senior Games a shot this year. It announced a month ago that it would sponsor the event, which is open to competitors 50 years and older, in June. It will be staged at SUNY-Cortland and also has typically attracted 1,000 or more participants from around the state. The sports council hopes to pay for all or most of the competition with entry fees and sponsor donations, according to executive director Machell Phelps.
The projected cost for the Senior Games is about $160,000, about the same as the Winter Games, which received a $5,000 donation from Stewart's Shops.
"We as a company donate two and a quarter million dollars a year in the 30 counties where we do business," said Tom Mailey, marketing director for Stewart's. "We have a culture of giving and a culture of helping, and when you see something that's been a tradition for so long and a group of people really rallying to keep it alive, it fit in right for us to be part of it. It's what we do. It's the right thing to do."
The Summer Games have always been staged on a grander scale with 6,000 athletes, cost significantly more and remain in limbo. New York's budget crisis forced the cancellation of the 2009 competition, but First Niagara Financial Group donated $500,000 last year and the 2010 Summer Games were staged in Buffalo.
Pete Harvey, director of sports development for the Buffalo-Niagara Sports Commission, said he was looking into whether the Summer Games could be held again in western New York, but so far nothing has materialized.
"We would like to see if there's an opportunity so the Summer Games don't die," Harvey said in early February, adding that last summer's competition left the commission with a small profit. "But we want to make sure it's feasible."
Harvey said a solution might be for the Summer Games to be staged in one region for three years and then move to other parts of the state for three-year runs.
Smith isn't so sure.
"What we've found, even in Syracuse when we were there for seven years in a row, the same sponsors, year after year - that can get old," Smith said. "They'll run themselves out quickly. We can find that no matter where we go. They like to see us every five years, or four years or so. It would be a difficult task."
"If somebody came along and said, 'Hey, I've got a million dollars for you, go run the programs,' I look around my empty office and wonder what to do," Smith said. "It's not real pleasant. I feel very terrible about it because it was more than just our little bureau running the program. The whole agency got involved. You help us and you're going to get a hat. It was really a family.
"It's rough coming in here to an empty office. It's just different. For some of these kids, this is their Olympics. They'll never go past high school track and field. It really is a shame if something can't be done."