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Georgia on his mind

Republic of Georgia politician tours Lake Placid facilities as his city prepares to host 2023 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships

September 20, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Gocha Gobronidze was 11 years old in February 1980 when he watched the Miracle on Ice hockey game on TV from his home in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, then part of the Soviet Union. But he wasn't rooting for the "home" team.

Gobronidze was cheering for the young American team, which ended up beating the Soviets 4-3 during the Winter Olympics here in Lake Placid. Like the U.S., Georgia has a fierce independent streak.

"Soviet Union occupied Georgia when it was independent in 1921," he said. "You know, they just swallowed the whole country. How can we cheer for the occupiers if we want to be free?"

Article Photos

From left, Gocha Gobronidze, supervisor of the city of Bakuriani in the Republic of Georgia, poses with USA Luge Marketing Director Dmitry Feld at the Mirror Lake Beach House in Lake Placid Monday, Sept. 16. Gobronidze is holding a Georgian flag on top of a blue USA Luge cowbell.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Almost 40 years later, Gobronidze is the supervisor of the city of Bakuriani in the Republic of Georgia, a region in the Caucasus mountains that was a center for winter sports development, training and competition for the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Bordering the Black Sea to the west, the small country is sandwiched between Russia to the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south. Now - 28 years after gaining independence from the USSR - Georgia is trying to rebuild its winter sports industry. And it's looking to Lake Placid for some inspiration, other than the lessons of the Miracle on Ice game.

"By watching that game, he realized that you can do many things if you want it," said USA Luge Marketing Director Dmitry Feld, who was acting as an interpreter for an interview with the News Monday, Sept. 16 at the Mirror Lake beach house, both speaking Russian. Feld was born in Russia, raised in the Ukraine and joined the Soviet army as a luge athlete before defecting to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1979.

Gobronidze was in Lake Placid this week - from Sunday, Sept. 15 to Friday, Sept. 20 - touring the Olympic facilities and learning as much as he could about the village's history of hosting the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games and its current commitment to the Olympic movement. He will also meet Mayor Craig Randall and speak with officials at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. It's part of his preparation to get Bakuriani ready for the 2023 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships.

Below are some of the questions posed to Gobronidze, interpreted by Feld.


Question: Why come to Lake Placid?

Answer: On his own initiative, and by the blessing of the city of Bakuriani, he's come here on a fact-finding mission. ... He'd like to learn about infrastructure, Olympic facilities, World Cup events and learn more about Lake Placid.


Q: How do you expect to use what you learn when you take it home?

A: He said he's going to take pictures. He'll do video. He'll do interviews. And he's going to try to learn as much as he can, go back and show to his other administrative people. And because whatever he learns here, he's going to try and make better in Bakuriani.


Q: Do you have all the infrastructure you need for the 2023 championships?

A: He said that they have five ski lifts already. They're building three more, getting a lot of help from Austria and France to create all these competitive sites. And he said by 2022, they have to have training week, when everybody going to come. They also build more new hotels, more roads. They'll be ready. By 2022, they'll have everything basically what needs to be done.


Q: Have World Cups been there before?

A: They had World Cup last year, freestyle. What he mentioned, during the Soviet Union, the city of Bakuriani was a center of Soviet winter sports. So they had luge, biathlon course, downhill, cross-country skiing. But what he's saying is - because it's just a single event - they can do it no problem. But if it was Olympic type of events, they could not do it yet. But individual events, they are ready to do. And they are in the construction mode of many other facilities there.


Q: What do you hope that the 2023 world championships will do for Bakuriani?

A: They are very ambitious. So 2023 will be like a jumping thing for them because they are now bidding for the (2024) Youth Olympic Games. And if they get this, that will help them with more infrastructure improvements, not only in Bakuriani but in other places in Georgia. And then hopefully if they get the Youth Olympic Games, maybe they'll bid for Olympic Games.


Q: Are the Olympic Games realistic in Georgia?

A: He said if they get Youth Winter Olympic Games, he's saying that's the next step. They can probably host it. Not just Bakuriani itself, but the whole region. Right now, he told us yesterday that Bakuriani has 40,000 sleeping rooms for people to sleep. And by 2023, there will be 80,000. So the numbers are there.


Q: What is one place you are looking forward to seeing during your visit?

A: He said he's always wanted to come to America, so he wants to see everything in America as possible. He said the most important thing people have to understand that America has a special place in people of Georgians' minds because ... since Georgia became independent, the United States helped them a lot get on their feet. And Georgia is one of the few countries in the world that the U.S. has a strategic relationship. And that means a lot to them. What he'd like to do, he'd like to go to New York City and see the Declaration of Independence (at the New York Public Library's Gottesman Hall). He'd like also to go to the Statue of Liberty and see as many places as he can.



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