Local Olympians help Paul Smith’s College plan new sports initiative

Olympian Bill Demong (AP photo — John Minchillo)

PAUL SMITHS — Five of the area’s most successful homegrown Olympic stars have joined the Paul Smith’s College Advisory Committee for Olympic Sports, which will help guide the college’s new Olympic sports initiative.

Four-time Olympic biathlete Tim Burke, a Paul Smiths native, is part of the group that includes two-time 2010 nordic combined Olympic medalist (and five-time Olympian) Billy Demong, who grew up in Vermontville; 2002 women’s hockey silver medalist Andrea Kilbourne-Hill of Saranac Lake; Chris Mazdzer, a luge silver medalist in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games from Saranac Lake, and three-time Olympian; and two-time alpine skiing medalist Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid, also a three-time Olympian. The five athletes have combined for 17 Winter Olympic Games appearances and six medal wins.

The committee will play a role in Paul Smith’s new initiative to support high-performance athletes in both competition and academics. An expansion of nordic ski facilities at the Paul Smith’s College VIC, expanded online coursework opportunities, the addition of new sports such as women’s ice hockey — Kilbourne-Hill is in charge of that program — and new academic degree programs such as Sports and Event Management are among the steps underway.

“I am very excited to be part of a group looking to explore opportunities for our amazing winter sport athletes and an amazing institution at Paul Smith’s College.” Demong said in a press release. “With the venues in Lake Placid and ORDA’s [the state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s] commitment to world-class events, a natural extension for education and training grounds is Paul Smith’s. This is a great chance to serve a multitude of people and help strengthen the Adirondacks’ Olympic heritage.”

The committee held its first meeting Friday, Aug. 10, with community leaders with ties to the region’s athletic and educational landscape also in attendance. The committee members shared anecdotes about the academic challenges faced while pursuing their Olympic goals and how their experiences will be valuable tools. A great emphasis was placed on athlete-first programming.

Two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht, known as the “War Horse,” sits with his Olympic medals during a press conference in May 2018 at the Mirror Lake Inn. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“I would love to see this part of the world have this type of relationship with a college,” Weibrecht said. “We can fully use the venues the way they should be used and not have to choose between your sport and college.”

Also key is the college’s proximity to Lake Placid and the wealth of training facilities in and around the two-time Olympic host village. In March, Lake Placid was selected to host the 2023 FISU Winter Universiade, an 11-day event that will bring 3,000 university athletes from 60 countries to the area to compete.

“With the FISU Winter Games coming in 2023, this is quite exciting, and knowing that we have the support of Tim, Andrea, Andrew, Chris and Billy is incredible,” PSC Athletic Director Jim Tucker said.

Saranac Lake’s Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, a silver medalist from the 2002 U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team, walks in a March 2018 parade in Saranac Lake. She was inducted into the Saranac Lake Walk of Fame immediately after the parade. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Four-time Olympic biathlete Tim Burke, who grew up in Paul Smiths, waves while riding on a float in a March 2018 Olympian parade in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, wearing his 2018 Olympic silver medal for luge — the only Olympic medal ever won by an American man in singles luge — takes questions from reporters on the balcony of the Hotel Saranac before Saranac Lake's Olympic welcome-home parade in March 2018. (Enterprise photo — Morgan Ryan)