Focusing on the future

Lake Placid skiers move to Olympic Training Center to concentrate on training full time

Lake Placid residents James Flanigan, left, and Van Ledger pose for a photo last week at Mount Van Hoevenberg. The two skiers are training full time at the Olympic Training Center and are also doing all of their schooling at the OTC. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid High School nordic ski team is the three-time defending state champion and has spawned numerous individual champions who have gone on to ski all over the world. But for two Lake Placid kids, the opportunity to train more was too much to ignore.

James Flanigan, who was part of the Blue Bombers’ relay championship team last year, and Van Ledger have left the public high school and are now training and learning full time at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

“We’ve been trying it out, kind of like the experiment for NYSEF [New York Ski Educational Foundation],” Flanigan said last week before skiing at Mount Van Hoevenberg for training. He was hanging out with his former classmates before they competed in the Section VII nordic ski championships.

“We started out this year, and it’s pretty good,” he said. “We do a lot of biathlon in the morning, and then afternoons we practice with the NYSEF team.

“The downside is I can’t ski with the school team. I definitely miss the school team, and I do school at the OTC, too, so I miss my friends, but I see them on the weekends sometimes.”

From left, Lake Placid skiers Henry McGrew, Scott Schulz and James Flanigan smile after claiming the NYSPHSAA team relay championship at the Snow Bowl in North Creek in February 2017. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Ledger said he thought leaving his classmates was a good trade-off based on how much training he gets to do now.

“We get to train twice as much and still get the same amount of education,” the freshman said. He added that he’s in biathlon essentially for the punishment of intense physical activity.

“It just looks like a brutal sport, kind of,” he laughed. “You do nordic skiing with a weight on your back, and then you have to get your heart rate to drop really fast and shoot. It just kind of seemed like nordic skiing but more brutal.”

Flanigan, who is now a sophomore, had a stellar freshman season with the Blue Bombers last year, but he said he wanted to focus more on biathlon, which the school doesn’t offer.

“Before, I only got to shoot maybe three times a week max, and now I shoot almost every morning,” he said. “Between dry fire and practice, my shooting is getting really good.”

Lake Placid’s Van Ledger, who skied for the high school team last year, moved to the OTC to focus on training in biathlon. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Flanigan and Ledger are following in some famous footsteps, and with local biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey in their fourth Olympics right now, the young skiers have plenty to look up to.

Biathlon is a sport in which nordic skiers take on various distances while skiing and then have to hit targets with a .22-caliber rifle. The athletes often have multiple shooting stages where they may be standing or lying down in the prone position. For each target missed, the athlete can be punished, either through a penalty lap or by having time added onto their race.

Ledger said he’s been watching the biathlon during the Olympics and is inspired to try to reach that level, especially knowing that he’s following the likes of Burke and Bailey on the Van Ho course.

“In America, biathlon is a really small sport, but to be able to look at the Olympics and see stadiums filled with people screaming for the athletes is awesome,” he said. “Especially since they [Burke and Bailey] train here, during the summer we’ll see them around training, and that’s awesome to see that.”

Ledger said he’s also picking up some tips from watching the world’s best compete, but it’s the locals he watches the closest.

Saranac Lake sophomore Sylvie Linck skis for NYSEF last month at the Harry Eldridge Memorial Race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. She has been racing for both her high school nordic ski team as well as the NYSEF team. She also qualified for Junior Nationals in Utah next month. (Photo provided by Kris Alberga)

“Tim Burke takes his gun off in this different way; he’s the only person I’ve ever seen do it,” he said, demonstrating the process by which biathletes take the roughly 7.7-pound gun off their back for the shooting portions. “He does it in this really fluid way. Most people grab the barrel (of the gun) and lift it up over their shoulder.

“But he does this thing where he grabs the bottom and it rotates around his body. I’ve been trying to start doing that, and it’s a good three, four seconds faster.”

Burke, who grew up in Paul Smiths and lives in Lake Placid, had his best ever Olympic finish this year, placing 17th in the sprint. Bailey, who moved to Lake Placid at age 10 and still lives here, had a disappointing finish in the sprint after facing what he termed “ridiculous” winds, which held him up for about a minute at one of the shooting stages.

Flanigan and Ledger are far from the only locals who take part in NYSEF training. Kids from both Lake Placid and Saranac Lake compete in the Mid-Atlantic Division of the United States Ski Association tour. Many locals will be going to the Junior Nationals competition in Utah early next month.

Saranac Lake’s Sylvie Linck, Jacob Alberga, Nick Kelting, Adrian Hayden and Lauchlan Cheney-Seymour all qualified for Junior Nationals in nordic skiing while still racing for the Red Storm in Section VII this year. From Lake Placid, school racers Mike Skutt, Kai Frantz and Scott Schulz will also be going, as will Lake Placid resident Marli Damp and Joseph Wilson of Keene.

Lake Placid’s Karl Schulz, older brother of Scott and a skier for the University of Vermont, will also go to represent NYSEF in the U18/U20 Division. Saranac Lake alumni Jackie Garso and Bryce Hartman also qualified, as did Henry McGrew, who was part of last year’s Blue Bomber championship team.

NYSEF doesn’t just support nordic skiers. Its ski jumpers, biathletes, alpine racers and snowboarders are all coached in Lake Placid as well.

Flanigan said he’s been paying close attention to the Olympics and gave a wry smile when asked if the national team might be in his future.

“There’s a lot of work to get there,” Flanigan said. “Right now, I’m really focusing on college skiing, just trying to increase my chances of going to a good school. My grades are decent, but I’m not going to a good school just for my grades.

“I feel like this is definitely going to help me get there, so that’s what I’m focusing on. But if it helps me get to World Cup skiing, that’d be fun.”