LAKE PLACID - The Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross-Country Ski Center, where Olympic biathlete Lowell Bailey spent many days skiing as a child, was buzzing Thursday afternoon with the news of his top-10 Olympic finish.
"It's really inspiring, and it makes you feel like you can actually get somewhere, like maybe I can go to the Olympics, my friends can go to the Olympics," said Lake Placid High School freshman Gabby Armstrong, who had just won the Section VII girls skate skiing meet. "He's right from where we live, so it's inspiring."
Bailey finished eighth in the 20-kilometer biathlon race in Sochi, Russia, the top finish ever for an American in that event. He moved to Lake Placid as a child, went to school there and continues to live there when he is not traveling for biathlon.
Gabby Armstrong of Lake Placid High School skis Thursday at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Over the years, local Nordic ski centers and children's cross-country skiing programs have often had visits from Olympians such as Bailey, fellow biathletes Tim Burke and Annelies Cook, and Nordic combined gold medalist Billy Demong. Seeing them have top finishes at the Olympics really hits home because of that.
"It's like a huge motivator for the kids," LPHS cross-country coach Bill Frazer said. "(He's) someone they see on trails. Lowell was here our first race here and actually skied with one of my kids and skied around. And kids look, and they know who he is, and they go, 'Wow, I can do that, too.' I think that's what kind of helps to lead to these kids having these goals but also seeing that they are attainable.
"I know for sure kids like Carl (Schulz). He could see the Olympics being a possibility. Even for Scottie (Schulz) and for Nina (Armstrong) and Gabby (Armstrong) and Bryce (Hartman). Any of the kids. Ethan Wood, all of the kids. Even the modified kids, I think they see it on TV, and they're like, 'Holy cow, we're from an area where there's a chance that Olympians come from here.' It's attainable if you put in the hard work."
And the kids aren't the only ones excited. Just ask Saranac Lake High School cross-country ski coach Keith Kogut.
"I think it's equally exciting for the coaches and the adults and for the kids," Kogut said. "There's no doubt that seeing these local athletes at the Olympics doing well is inspiring to the kids and makes them want to go out and ski, and makes them want to go faster. It's awesome for the kids."
Jesse Izzo, of Lake Placid, who is just 12 years old, is also a cross-country ski racer. He agreed that Bailey's result was inspiring.
"We're cross-country skiers," Izzo said. "He's just like us, and look where he got."