LAKE PLACID - Lake Placid celebrated its Olympic heritage Sunday, March 16 by welcoming back a dozen athletes who competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Many live here, full time or part time, and train at the venues that once hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games. The celebration included a parade, speeches, fireworks and a chance to meet the Olympians.
Spectators lined Main Street for the parade, bundled up for the temperatures in single digits and wind chill below zero. Bridget DeGroot lives in Westchester and has a second home in Lake Placid. She watched the parade with her husband, Terry DeGroot, and was holding a sign saying, "Lake Placid loves Holcomb. Superman."
"We are coming because we are so excited to see the Olympians, especially Holky," DeGroot said. "Steven Holcomb. He got the bronze in the two-man and in the four-man."
Olympian Steve Holcomb poses with fan Bridget DeGroot on March 16. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
Holcomb's a bobsledder who trains in Lake Placid. He and the other 11 Olympians, including teammate Steve Langton, marched from the Olympic Center to The Cottage restaurant, owned by the parents of Andrew Weibrecht, who won a silver medal in Sochi in super-giant slalom. Four years ago, he earned a bronze medal in the same event in Vancouver.
"It was four years ago about now, we had another parade," Weibrecht said during his post-parade speech. "And I had a lot of really tough times personally with injuries between then and now. I think it took all the support of an amazing community like Lake Placid to get me back up to that level where I was able to come back and really represent everybody in the best way that I could. And I'm very fortunate to have all of you as my support system, to have my family, my wife. Thank you all so much. I'm glad that I could do something to make everybody a little bit proud."
Erin Hamlin grew up in Remsen. She was one of four Olympic medalists who spoke after the parade, along with Weibrecht, Holcomb and Langton. Hamlin earned a bronze medal in luge. Like Holcomb, she trains in Lake Placid.
"Thank you everybody," Hamlin said. "Thank you for freezing. I really appreciate you all coming out. It's great to get back to Lake Placid and see a lot of familiar faces. I grew up only two-and-a-half hours away from here. I've been spending a majority of my years up here since I was 12, and it's been a great second home. It's an amazing experience, and I have a lot of my family here today, too, that I couldn't have done this journey without, so I really appreciate all that. My second family, everyone who is at the training center and who has been there since I was a little kid, putting up with our antics and cheering us on from home, we really appreciate it."
After the speeches, the Olympians walked down to the ice of Mirror Lake, behind The Cottage, lit the ceremonial cauldron and enjoyed a fireworks display as they mingled with friends, family and admirers. Bridget DeGroot finally got her chance to meet Holcomb on the ice. The bobsledder was wearing his bronze medals and the gold he won in Vancouver. He almost got choked up during his speech when talking about Lake Placid as his second home.
"I have a lot of people who have supported me here for a long time, and it's just great to come home and have them come out and support me even more and be able to show them the hardware," Holcomb said after signing a photo of himself in the Lake Placid News for DeGroot. "It's been a long and challenging road, and we've been through a lot together. I've been here for the last few years training hard, and it's been crazy. The support is amazing. They've been behind me the whole way, and it just feels good to bring home the medal and show them."
How important is Lake Placid to Holcomb's career?
"It's extremely important," he said. "The Olympic Training Center here has been fantastic. I've been coming here for 16 years, and like I said, the support is just overwhelming. I'm not from here, but I feel like this is my second home. These guys have been great."
Lake Placid has been in the Olympic business since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, when a local speed skater, Charles Jewtraw, traveled to Europe and earned a gold medal. North Elba Town supervisor Roby Politi said it's not only important to win a medal; it's just as important to participate as an Olympian.
"Whether or not they wear a medal around their neck, they are carrying the greatest of honors," Politi said. "They are our Olympians, and they deserve an overwhelming applause from all of you. (applause) Tonight, we are not just here to welcome them home, but we are also here to celebrate our own Olympic heritage. Ninety years ago, Lake Placid's own Charles Jewtraw won the very first Winter Olympic Games gold medal in Chamonix, France, and we have had the honor of placing an athlete in every Winter Olympics ever since."
Mayor Craig Randall spent his life in Lake Placid. His father skated with Charles Jewtraw on the Mill Pond.
Randall knows all too well the importance of the Olympics to Lake Placid and its legacy.
"In this crowd, I'm sure there are future Olympians, and we will have more types of these celebrations," Randall said. "So let's keep the legacy of Lake Placid alive, keep the cauldron burning, and cheers to all of our Olympians who came back and did so well."
If local athletes continue that legacy, there's a good chance Lake Placid will host another parade down Main Street four years from now, when local Olympians return from South Korea.