Athletes gather to kick off ESWG

Members of the Sara-Placid U10 hockey team, along with coaches Chris Ericson and Scott Bell, got a front row view among the athletes who gathered at the Olympic Center for Thursday's opening ceremonies that kicked off the 39th annual Empire State Winter Games. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — The Empire State Winter Games kicked off Thursday, as athletes, officials, friends, family and the community gathered in the Lake Placid Olympic Center for the opening ceremony and lighting of the Games’ cauldron.

From Friday through Sunday, 2,100 athletes of all ages, from across the state and beyond, are expected to descend upon Lake Placid’s Olympic venues, as well as nearby Whiteface Mountain, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Paul Smiths and Malone.

More than 30 events make up the 2019 Games, presented by Community Bank and supported by I LOVE NY. The sports include Alpine and Nordic skiing, ski jumping, hockey, figure skating, speed skating, freestyle moguls, snowboard cross, skeleton, luge, bobsled and snowshoe. Adaptive athletes will compete in Alpine and Nordic skiing, ski cross, snowboard cross and hockey. New this year, E-Sports and the Titus Ski Festival have been added to the schedule.

Keynote speaker Nick Fairall, a 1994 Olympian in ski jumping, who suffered serious spinal injuries while training in Bischofshofe, Austria, challenged the athletes, asking them if they wanted to have a “victim or victor mentality?” He shared his experience of not being selected to the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team and his struggles coping with his life-altering injury.

“You are going to face challenges in sports and in your lives that are going to feel like they’re extremely difficult to handle and you’re going to face challenges and setbacks that are your own. The challenges that you face will only destroy you if you let them,” he said. “We all have the strength to overcome the challenges that lay before us. When challenges present themselves, I want you to remember that every day you decide, you choose to succumb or overcome, to remain a victim or become a victor.”

Bobsled athlete Joey Meadows and Alpine ski coach William Dewey delivered the Athletes’ Oath and Officials’ Oath, respectively.

As the ceremony drew to a close, 12-year-old Hana Kang, of Long Island, a four-time Empire State Winter Games participant in figure skating, lit the cauldron as the ceremony’s emcee Tracey Wilson proclaimed, “Let the Games begin.”

Kang, and all of the other athletes who participated in the opening ceremony, marched into the Olympic Center wearing LED bracelets that were timed to music. During the ceremony the color of each bracelet turned to white, but her bracelet, through a random computer draw, turned red giving Kang the honor of lighting the cauldron, signifying the opening of the Games. 

Among the highlights of Friday’s competitions will be adaptive sled hockey in Saranac Lake, boys and girls super-G at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, cross-country skiing at Mount Van Hoevenberg, figure skating and hockey in the Olympic Center and long track speed skating at the Olympic speed skating oval.