It's likely that some of the students in our local schools will be competing in the Olympic Winter Games someday, and that's the main reason we cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Empire State Winter Games, held Feb. 6-9, to Lake Placid, the Adirondack Park and all of New York state.
We are thankful and proud that the regional coalition supporting the Empire State Winter Games saved it in 2011 after being chopped from the state budget. And we've enjoyed seeing it grow to include more local communities. This event is important to the economy and to the institution of sports development in New York state.
While our state's games - held in Lake Placid, Wilmington, Saranac Lake, Paul Smiths and Tupper Lake this past weekend - pale in comparison to the Olympic Winter Games currently being held in Sochi, Russia, our country's Olympic movement would not be possible without an ongoing commitment to sports development. Olympic dreams start when children are young, and we must nurture them. Get children interested, train them and have them compete in local, regional, state, national and international contests. Motivate them. Inspire them. Our children are America's future Olympic athletes.
Lake Placid and surrounding communities in the Adirondack Park have been developing Olympic athletes for 90 years, so it's a natural part of our heritage that we continue to hand down from one generation to the next. Lake Placid resident Charles Jewtraw earned the world's first gold medal in an Olympic Winter Games, winning the 500-meter speed skating race in Chamonix, France in 1924. One photo in the Lake Placid Olympic Museum shows Jewtraw in his Olympic uniform skating on an ice sheet at the Lake Placid Club's tennis courts, and a monument off Station Street commemorates his training days on a frozen Mill Pond. Starting with Jewtraw, hometown heroes from the Lake Placid region have competed in every Olympic Winter Games since 1924.
At the Feb. 6 Empire State Winter Games opening ceremony in the Olympic Center, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said, "The legacy of these winter games follows on the legacy of the 1980 (Olympic) Winter Games. Who will ever forget those?"
Indeed, we can go back to 1932 for that legacy, even to the Lake Placid Club and its founder's son, Godfrey Dewey, who successfully convinced the International Olympic Committee in 1929 to award the 1932 Olympic Winter Games to Lake Placid. Next winter, we'll celebrate the 110th anniversary of the Lake Placid Club's first winter season, when LPC founder Melvil Dewey invited 10 individuals to spend a winter vacation at the club's Mirror Lake facility and enjoy sports on the ice and in the woods. Lake Placid's 1932 and 1980 Olympics - even the Empire State Winter Games - can trace their lineage to that moment in time.
Yet it's the hard work and dedication of sports developers since Lake Placid's first Olympics who fostered the region's Olympic heritage and kept those dreams alive for our young athletes. That grassroots effort has always been at the heart of Lake Placid's psyche. As the quintessential underdog, the inherent belief in our venues, communities, organizers and athletes has served us well in the face of monstrous challenges and competition against big money and big cities bidding for the Olympics. When you look at all this village has achieved, we wonder if someone forgot to tell Lake Placid that it's a small town. It only proves that anything is possible.
Lake Placid may be a small town, but it's a host to the world. By 1922, the Swiss press began calling St. Moritz - home of the 1928 Olympic Winter Games - the "Lake Placid of Europe." And the village has enjoyed international fame since becoming America's premier winter sports resort in the 1920s.
After the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, the local sports venues have been upgraded and maintained, even in the harshest financial climates. In the early 1970s, when the state of New York decided there wasn't enough money to maintain the facilities at Mount Van Hoevenberg, local organizers kept the bobsled track open in the hope that Lake Placid would be chosen as the site of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. It worked, and the state was finally able to take over operation of the facility again later in the decade, just before the games began.
Since 1981, the Olympic Regional Development Authority has been operating the Olympic venues, and the state has continued to invest in the sporting facilities. It even built a new combined bobsled/luge/skeleton track at Mount Van Hoevenberg in time for the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games.
Now our venues are constantly being used by national governing bodies and youth sports groups for training, development and competition. Thanks to this investment, winter sports are not only part of our history and culture; they're an integral part of our future. They make the Empire State Winter Games possible, and the games help keep Olympic hopes alive for future generations.
This year, the Empire State Winter Games celebrated its 34th anniversary by hosting a record 1,400 athletes in a variety of 20 sports, including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, nordic combined, bobsled, luge, skeleton, figure skating. ski jumping, speed skating, ice hockey and slopestyle.
Empire State Winter Games organizers deserve a round of applause for their efforts. This is a community-driven event that wouldn't be possible without a private-public partnership: Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism; towns of North Elba, Harrietstown, Brighton, Wilmington, Tupper Lake and Jay; villages of Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake; counties of Essex and Franklin; ORDA; and state Sen. Betty Little. In addition, we'd like to send kudos out to I Love New York for promoting the Empire State Winter Games and to local sponsors such as Hannaford Supermarkets for providing essential funds from the private sector.
The experiences of athletes, such as this year's keynote speaker, alpine skier and Olympic hopeful Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene, show why the Empire State Winter Games are so important to New York.
"My experiences with skiing have defined who I am today," he said. "The most important attribute any athlete can have is to be your best. ... There is no question, for most of the world, the Winter Olympics are a lot more glamorous than the Empire State Games. But for me, here tonight, these events are a lot more important than Sochi."
Learn more about the Empire State Winter Games by visiting online at www.empirestatewintergames.com.