Sliders happy with Italy as Olympic host
LAKE PLACID — At least when it comes to the sliding sports, Americans couldn’t be much more excited with the selection of the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo as the host of the 2026 Winter Olympics.
On Monday, the International Olympic Committee announced its choice of northern Italy, which marks the first time two cities will band together to host an Olympic Games. Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo won out over the Swedish capital of Stockholm, which was the only other location that bid for the 2026 games.
The United States bobsled and skeleton and luge teams are headquartered in Lake Placid, and members of those organizations are thrilled sliding will take place in Cortina, the 1956 Winter Olympic city which is actually 250 miles away from Milan. Competitions and other Olympic events will be held in Milan and Cortina and other towns in between those cities.
For Chris Mazdzer, who won the men’s luge singles silver medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the selection of northern Italy will be bringing the games back to a place that actually experiences winter. Mazdzer, who turned 31 this week, says he’ll retire from luge after the 2022 Beijing Olympics. He won’t be competing when 2026 rolls around but plans to attend those games.
“Personally, I’m really excited to see the Olympics going to a place with real mountains,” Mazdzer said. “Cortina for me is a big win. It’s going to be incredible for everybody. People are going to love it.”
If Sweden did get the bid, the sliding sports actually would have been held across the Baltic Sea at the track in Sigulda, Latvia, which would result in many bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes being unable to attend other events that are part of the Olympics, including the opening ceremonies.
Mazdzer said not only would that take away from the Olympic experience for sliders, it could also provide the Latvian and Russian teams a huge advantage because they regularly train on that track. Cortina’s historic Eugenio Monti bobsled run opened in 1923, closed in 2008 and will be going through a multi-million dollar upgrade to be ready for 2026.
“Sliding in Latvia would mean a separate Olympic experience,” Mazdzer said. “Cortina will make for a better competition in sliding sports. In Sigulda, Russia and the Latvians dominate that track.”
Saranac Lake’s Tuffy Latour, a longtime U.S. bobsled and skeleton coach, said American sliders have ties to the Cortina track that date back decades. The run has been the site of triumphs for the Americans, as well as a venue of tragedy when Lake Placid bobsledder Jimmy Morgan died in a crash there in 1981.
“The village of Cortina will host the bobsled and skeleton events and is a special place for the U.S. team in many ways,” Latour said. “We’ve won medals, lost teammates and built a special bond to that area. It’s great to see the IOC see the importance of coming full circle and bringing the Olympics to this historical location.
“Most of the current coaching staff slid there,” Latour continued. “It’s been offline for a while now. The track needs some redesign to accommodate luge and skeleton. It’s historically been a great track for us.”
Mazdzer and Latour both said that resuming sliding in Cortina will not only benefit the U.S., but also provide an overall boost to the sports of bobsled, skeleton and luge as a whole, primarily because of its close location to many of the nations that compete in those disciplines.
“The great thing about bringing Cortina back into the Olympic program is that sliding sports will benefit greatly by adding this location,” Latour said. “The track will be close to many of our other World Cup stops and a big addition to our programs. Cortina is much like Lake Placid in so many ways; a small town with a big vision. The investment into the Cortina track is big for our teams and continues the legacy of this Italian town.”
Jim Leahy, USA Luge’s chief executive officer, also said he’s pleased that Cortina has been chosen for the sliding sports competitions. Currently, the track in Latvia is unable to host four-man bobsledding, so it would have to be reconfigured for an Olympic competition.
“Right now Sigulda is a very iconic track, and the entire profile of that track would have to change to accommodate four-person bobsled,” Leahy said. “If Sweden was picked, our athletes would not have been able to participate in the opening ceremonies. It’s an overnight ferry ride away from Stockholm.
“Cortina is not only good for our athletes, it is an excellent situation for sliding sports as a whole,” Leahy added. “We’ve done extremely well in the past two Winter Olympics on what we consider a neutral track. They’ll be rebuilding Cortina, and it will create a fair, level playing field for everybody.”
Darrin Steele, CEO of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, expressed his pleasure at Italy’s selection as the 2026 Winter Olympics host.
“The IOC couldn’t go wrong on this selection because either bid city would have done an excellent job hosting the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, but we are truly excited about the selection of Italy and we look forward to competing on the historic Cortina track,” Steele said. “Cortina is unlike any track in the world, and the beauty of the region makes the experience of competing there even better.”
“Congratulations to Milan-Cortina for earning the right to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Rick Adams, chief of sport performance for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, wrote in an email. “Many Team USA athletes have experience competing and training there and their reaction to the news has been very positive. As an NOC, we are certainly excited about 2026, but our job is to be ready for the games regardless of location. So, even though it’s seven years away, planning starts today.”
In terms of hosting an Olympics on American soil again, Los Angeles was approved as the host site for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in September 2017. Salt Lake City, Utah, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, is being looked at as a location for either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics.