LAKE PLACID — The Empire State Winter Games start here one day before the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi.
On Feb. 6, opening ceremonies in Lake Placid will draw more than 1,000 athletes to New York’s signature amateur sporting competition.
Venues throughout the region are ramping up to welcome them here amid Olympic celebrations.
“The Empire State Winter Games begin in three weeks and one day,” event spokesman Sandy Caligiore announced Wednesday. “The Winter Olympics begin in three weeks and two days.
“We are going to have many athletes at Sochi who got their start in the Empire State Winter Games.”
That the two events led into each other means a busy few days in early February for the Olympic Village and nearby towns, especially since Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival — with this year’s theme, the Celtic Carnival — begins at the same time.
But leaders at sports venues and in the business community see it as a time to shine.
Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), said the Empire State winter sporting events have grown this year to include venues in Tupper Lake and at the Paul Smith’s Visitor’s Interpretive Center in Brighton.
“We’ve really achieved a regional approach to the games this year. And it’s our fourth year. These events are growing nicely,” he said.
The start to this season’s Empire State Games was bolstered Wednesday with the addition of a presenting sponsor, the first such corporate sponsor since the program was reinvigorated four years ago.
Hannaford Supermarkets stepped in to add both $10,000 in financing for New York’s local athletic event and special promotions in 10 of its New York supermarkets.
Olympic Regional Development Authority CEO Ted Blazer welcomed Hannaford support at a special announcement held at the grocery store’s Lake Placid location.
“We are very pleased to be able to stand here with such a great sponsor as Hannaford Supermarkets,” he said.
SAVING THE GAMES
Blazer, McKenna, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall and North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi were among those who set about preserving Empire State’s amateur winter sporting competition when the state cut the program from its budget after 30 years.
“We said we can’t let that end,” Blazer recalled.
“It’s been difficult,” he said of enlisting financial support beyond what surrounding towns have pooled for hosting athletes and staging events at ORDA’s Olympic venues.
“But now, (Hannaford’s assistance) is going to take us to another level. One thing is for sure, it is going to propel this event to a better future.”
With some 183 supermarkets throughout New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts, the supermarket corporation is focusing Empire State games promotions locally.
“We are proud to support the outstanding athletes and their dedication to their sport,” Hannaford Community Relations Specialist Molly Tarleton said at the press conference, held in the fresh produce aisle.
“We have a real belief in supporting health and wellness in our communities. And these are folks that inspire us. We are proud to keep a tradition alive in these communities and in New York state.”
Hannaford also has produced Empire State Winter Games pins emblazoned with their grocery store’s cornucopia logo.
“The Empire State Winter Games pins are available on Jan. 22 through Feb. 15,” Tarleton said.
The collectible pins sell for $4.99.
“All proceeds go back to support the (games),” Tarleton said.
“It is a really good promotion for us,” McKenna said.
Cross-country ski athletes training in Lake Placid took a little time off Wednesday morning to share their Empire State games experience.
Nina Armstrong is tuning up for Nordic skiing competition with the New York Ski Educational Foundation in Lake Placid.
She said her first big race was at the Empire State Winter Games.
“And it has helped me … not only with racing but to see all the other athletes in Lake Placid.”
“It is a great event for developing athletes,” added Margaret Maher, head Nordic ski coach for the foundation, based at Whiteface Mountain.
Athletes who start here, she said, look to compete on a larger scale.
“And, hopefully, someday, (in) the Olympics.”
The proximity of Winter Games here and on the worldwide stage in Sochi will mean a hectic few weeks for winter sports in Lake Placid.
“No matter where you go, you are going to bump into the Empire State Winter Games,” Caligiore said.
“And you’re going to bump into Sochi.”
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Hannaford stores in Lake Placid, Plattsburgh, Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park, Colonie, Albany, Delmar, Glens Falls, Massena and Queensbury are participating in Empire State Winter Games promotions.
Beyond the special pins, the grocery stores will have in-store contests with prizes that include Lake Placid hotel packages, ski- and Olympic-venue getaways.
Promotions started Wednesday and continue through Jan. 27. Winners will be picked from all entries on Jan. 29.