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GUEST COMMENTARY: Let’s take a different approach

June 19, 2014
By NAJ WIKOFF - Keene Valley , Lake Placid News

I think recommending the town of North Elba stick it to the Olympic Regional Development Authority is the wrong attitude to promote. The town needs ORDA, and ORDA needs the town. Neither can fully succeed without the other. Thus the issue is not how to "stick it" to the other, but how to enhance cooperation and take a collaborative approach to achieving common goals.

Our venues may be in far better shape than most Olympic communities, yet many of them no longer meet international FIS (International Ski Federation) standards for training and competitions, which with the jumps means being available year round. The result is we have been losing coaches, athletes and sports nongovernmental organizations to other communities and, of consequence, are at risk of losing the United States Olympic Training Center and the 40 jobs it represents, along with our tradition and business as center for producing and training Olympians.

ORDA cannot solve the problem of maintaining the venues at international standards alone. While that is their mandate, and they have a real responsibility to the community and the athletes of this state to do so, ORDA is a state agency and gets budgeted a certain amount of funds, which have been diminishing over the years, forcing it to cut corners, make tough decisions and manage with fewer and fewer resources.

We need to increase cooperation and reduce animosity - indeed, bury animosity that has too long bedeviled the community. The animosity goes back to the state having to bail out the community for the Olympic debt and, as a condition of doing so, taking over management of all the venues. Unfortunately at that time, leadership that came in felt the volunteers had messed up the administration of the games and really were not needed going forward, creating a bunker mentality that too often has set us at odds.

A lot of things about the games worked, and worked well, such as the organization of the sporting events. Some things were unfortunate: Too many here were too cozy with ABC and basically let them have the broadcast rights for far less than they were worth, something that Peter Ueberroth, head of the Los Angeles Games, realized, resulting in an Olympics that turned a huge profit. Locals brought innovations to the games, such as the awards ceremonies out on the ice, the creation of a winter Arts Olympiad and many others. Many things worked; many failed, to our embarrassment, such as the buses. What did work was the spirit of the games, a result of the combined talents of the volunteers, hired professionals, the athletes and the community character that makes Placid so special.

Truth is, people at ORDA work very hard, put in long hours and at times go for weeks without a day off. The reality is we all need to work smarter, more cooperatively and more honestly. We need to recognize that the venues are not in good shape, and we collectively need to develop a plan to fix them. We should stop hiding behind such erroneous statements as, "Well, they were created for a two-week event," as I have heard way too often of late. The venues were made not just for the Olympics but so we could continue to host international events decades into the future, and in fact that did happen.

Most of our venues are 35 years old. FIS standards, equipment and techniques have changed, and we must upgrade our venues to stay current. Good news is that an ad-hoc committee consisting of people from ORDA, New York Ski Education Foundation, National Sports Academy, the Eastern Ski Jumping Nordic Combined Foundation and the town have been working cooperatively for several months to set priorities and develop a strategy for upgrading the jumps, which includes building an additional 65-70-meter jump to enhance the transition from a 35 to a 90-meter jump, modifying the radius of the in-runs and landing hills, and adding frost rails to the in-runs so all the jumps can be used year round. If we succeed, we would once again become a leading center for training and competitions in North America, as our venues have towers and are at about 2,000 feet in elevation, aspects similar to most international jumps. (Park City and Steamboat jumps are at 9,000 feet and built into hillsides.)

Key will be the community taking a lead role in lobbying for and raising new dollars, aspects which ORDA cannot do. Simply, our success requires a cooperative-collaborative approach, one we hope will become a model for all the venues. That said, we need to consider how we can work smarter. The town is promoting to the ORDA board people who bring on new skills and a broad range of contacts, as both Joe Lamb and Andrew Lack represent. What is needed on the board is greater diversity. For one, it's way too white. We need people skilled in attracting diverse audiences, media and social media attention, managing international sports venues, and raising corporate dollars.

We have a governor who loves the North Country. He wants to improve the economy. He gets the value of the bully pulpit. How can we help him succeed? As Tony Carlino keeps saying, we need to think in terms of cross-training. I think we need to use that mindset to not only upgrade our venues and enhance ORDA-community relations, but to recreate an excitement for coming here to visit, live, learn new skills or repurpose one's life.

As an example, I'd ask the governor to recruit Jay-Z for the ORDA board. Crazy? He got a cutting-edge arena built in Brooklyn, recruited and revitalized the Nets, and the place is packed. A person like him would be an immediate statement to the over 45 percent of New Yorkers who are people of color that we not only welcome them, but invite them to trade in skateboards for snowboards, rollerblades for skates and cross-country skis, and to leap on a skeleton or luge sled. After all, if Lauryn Williams can win an Olympic silver medal in bobsled, maybe one day they can, too.

Let's not just think differently; let's act differently.



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