Press-Republican

February 7, 2013

The more the merrier for Winter Games

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — LAKE PLACID — The roster of athletes arriving for the Empire State Winter Games has topped 1,100.

The Olympic venues are ready for today’s opening. And competitors are ready to see the torch lit.

Athletes — including some skaters yet to turn 10 and snowshoers older than 60 — will compete in some 20 events, including ice skating, alpine skiing, biathlon, hockey and skier/snowboarder cross.

Four adaptive events were added to the Winter Games roster this year, snowboard cross and biathlon among them, and more than 40 adaptive athletes are signed in to compete.

BIGGEST IN DECADES

Organizers said this year’s event rivals the biggest held in 33 years.

Ted Blazer, president and CEO of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, spent time earlier this week checking venues.

“Things are looking really good,” he said. “We’re right in event mode.”

Two World Cup competitions have already been held in Lake Placid, and last weekend’s synchronized skating brought more than 2,000 athletes to the village.

But the Empire State Games are fast becoming a part of storied local winter sports history.

This marks the third year that six communities here have organized and cooperatively run the competition.

When the state opted out of hosting the Winter Games, local sports and tourism leaders stepped in.

‘OLYMPIC FEEL’

In 33 years, more than 200 Winter Games athletes have gone on to Olympic and international-level competition, said Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“They use this event to experience a multi-event Olympic feel.”

It is, he added, often the highlight of their winter sports activity.

Incoming teams from all corners of New York deliver a unique kind of athletic energy and excitement to Lake Placid, Wilmington, Paul Smiths, Saranac Lake and the towns they visit along the way, McKenna said.

From the delighted screaming in the stands to the inspired awe of competing on Olympic courses, this particular event is about the excitement it generates.

TORCH LIGHTING

Most New York sporting clubs hold qualifying events to move athletes up to the Empire State Winter Games.   

“And the torch run is leading the flame here through the different communities,” Blazer added.

A designated competitor, whose name was not released yet on Wednesday, will use that flame to light the torch in the Herb Brooks arena as athletes gather for opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. today.

From that point on, winter venues will be in constant event rotation.

New slope-style activities are also planned at Whiteface Ski Resort in Wilmington, where trails are ready and courses set.

The awards celebration with fireworks is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday in Mid’s Park on Main Street in Lake Placid.

YOUNG ATHLETES

The model for these games is Olympic.

“We look at what the International Olympic Committee is doing,” said Winter Games spokesman Sandy Caligiore. 

The goal is to draw young athletes into a larger field of competition filled with Olympic-sized spirit and camaraderie.

“If we can engage that younger crowd and keep them engaged, we would have done well,” he added.

FULL WEEKEND

With the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Luge World Cup Competition, and the regular winter guests arriving today, the Tri-Lakes area is facing a busy weekend.

The possibility of a big snowstorm Friday just adds to the excitement here.

“We will start dancing in the streets,” McKenna said.

“We’re a modern resort community. We have the capabilities of dealing with that,” Blazer said.

A full house and a full slate of activities look to make for a winter blast.

“As the mayor of Saranac Lake, Clyde Rabideau once said, ‘The more the merrier,’” Caligiore quipped. “The more and we’re merrier.”

Email Kim Smith: kdedam@pressrepublican.co

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GAMES SCHEDULE

A complete listing of events, times and venues is posted online at empirestatewintergames.com and all venues are open to the public.

Results will be updated regularly for each competition.