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ESWG light it up this weekend

LAKE PLACID — More than 2,000 athletes of all ages are predicted to descend on the region this weekend.

They will compete in 20 different sports at the Empire State Winter Games, an annual event that local municipalities, organizations and business sponsors have run since the state dropped it in 2010.

The ESWG is now in its 40th year, having originated shortly after the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. It has been based in Lake Placid ever since, and now it also holds competitions in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Paul Smiths and Wilmington. In recent years it has reached as far away as Malone.

New this year is an Athletes Village in Tupper Lake, in addition to the returning one in Lake Placid. The Athletes Villages will have fire pits, hot chocolate and s’mores, are open to the public and are meant to be a fun place to hang out and hold medal ceremonies.

More than 2,100 athletes took part in the 2019 ESWG, according to organizers, and they are hoping for more this year.

Two torch relays — one from Manhattan and one from western New York — began this past weekend and will conclude at Thursday evening’s Opening Ceremonies, which start at 6:30 p.m. at the Herb Brooks Arena (aka 1980 Rink) inside the Lake Placid Olympic Center. Hundreds of this year’s athletes will parade into the arena and be entertained by Light Balance, a group of dancers, designers, programmers and choreographers that creates neon and LED shows. The ceremonies are free and open to the public to attend.

Competition will follow on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The sports range from the expected to the obscure. Common winter pastimes such as hockey, figure skating, and Alpine and Nordic skiing are present in full force. So are disciplines normally associated with the Winter Olympics: bobsled, luge, skeleton, biathlon, speedskating and freestyle moguls. Collegiate ski jumping is new this year and will take place at the newly renovated and upgraded Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid.

Then there are idiosyncratic sports that have never made it big but have loyal followings, such as ski orienteering — map-and-compass wayfinding on skis in the woods — and bike races on downhill ski runs.

E-sports — video gaming, which is one of the most popular spectator sports on earth, but not yet in the U.S. — was added last year and will return.

The ESWG also has adaptive sports for people with disabilities: biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and, new this year, para-bobsledding.

The Tupper Lake Civic Center will host all the girls hockey games, although the championship games for the 14-and-under and 12-and-under divisions will be in Lake Placid’s 1980 Rink.

The Saranac Lake Civic Center will host all the senior women’s hockey and adaptive sled hockey games, except the gold-medal games in the 1980 Rink. Saranac Lake’s Dewey Mountain Recreation Center will host Friday’s Nordic ski races and ski orienteering Saturday. Saranac Lake Mount Pisgah Ski Center will host the winter biking and some Alpine ski races.

Paul Smith’s College will host all the snowshoe and e-sports competition, plus Sunday’s ski orienteering.

Wilmington’s Whiteface Mountain Ski Center will be the site for Alpine skiing, ski-cross and snowboard-cross, and moguls.

The Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, just outside Lake Placid, will host all the bobsled, skeleton and luge, some Nordic ski races and possibly Nordic combined ski races, as well as the adaptive biathlon, Nordic skiing and bobsled events.

In Lake Placid, the Olympic Center will host all the figure skating, short-track speedskating and 10-and-under boys hockey competition, plus the other hockey championship games. The Olympic Speedskating Oval next door will host long-track speedskating, and the upgraded Olympic Jumping Complex will host ski jumping.

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