Saturday, December 28, 2013

At The Bobsled Track: The Best School Day Ever

Dutch team at start“This was the best school day ever,” yelled dozens of Lake Placid Sixth Graders, waving their flags across the finish line for the day’s winners of the two-man bobsled World Cup Bobsled Competition out at Mt. Van Hoevenberg on Friday, December 13.

The bobsled coaches, athletes, and their families agreed.

“We have heard these kids out everywhere around the track,” said USA bobsled driver Cory Butner who ended the day in fourth place. “Coming up the home stretch, it felt great seeing all the kids ringing their cowbells. Hearing them scream makes us want to race harder, get better results.”

While the predicted chilly temperatures and heavy snow falling in the southern Adirondacks kept some schools away, the students from Lake Placid and Galloway High School had a grand time: the sun was out, the wind was quiet in the morning, and they got plenty of exercise running up and down the mountain ringing cowbells to keep warm.

“Our students all have American flags of course,” said Lake Placid sixth-grade teacher George Bailey. “Groups of three students each researched a country racing here today, made a flag so they could come cheer them on, and gave presentations to their classmates so we all learned about each country. We’ve been working on it all week — all having a great time – and coming out to the race marks the end of our program.”

Hoping to become journalists, several Galloway High School students thought to interview the athletes after the competition. Student Camile Milton’s father, working that day as a producer for John Morgan, was able to show these students inside the production trailer and bring them into the press building where ORDA communications director, Jon Lundin, introduced them to several reporters, explaining how they were covering the event.

“All the kids cheer on all the countries,” said teacher Kristen Ostrander. “Our group includes exchange students from England, Germany, and Spain. They love the opportunity to cheer on their respective countries as well as all the other athletes.”

G girl interviewingGerman exchange student Katherin Moser who hails from a village near Frankfurt, Germany, hometown of German Formula-One superstar Sebastian Vettel, had the chance to meet several German athletes and coaches. She also interviewed German public-radio journalist Heiko Olderp. “I love it! It’s fun!” said Moser. “It’s exciting to be so close to the track!”

The students not only kept their teachers on their toes and enthused bobsledders and coaches; they kept several volunteers busy as well:

“I’m helping with crowd control,” said volunteer Barbara Hollenbeck of Tupper Lake. “As there are a lot of school groups here, I’m making sure they don’t throw snowballs onto the tracks or wander into areas reserved for athletes. It’s neat talking to different kids, learning what they think of it. I like the way little kids wear a flag around their neck — of a country that has a bobsled team competing. The bobsledders look for their country team to cheer them on. It ups their focus on what’s going on.”

“My job is to keep the crowd kind of concentrated here, not wandering too close to the track with bobsleds speeding by,” said volunteer Jim Haig. “I’m here to let people know this is a fun place to be — particularly the school groups: fun, but keep it under control. I volunteer as it’s a nice way to get involved in the community, engage with various activities at the venues, and get to know people in the area.”

“In Lake Placid is just like home,” said Russian coach Oleg Sukhoruchenko. “The track is much like our tracks: the mountains, forests, snow — very like Siberia. Everyone told us the view is like Siberia. They were right.”

“School children come out to cheer various teams, including South Korea’s,” I explained to Malcolm Lloyd, South Korea’s coach: “In fact, your cheering squad out there is really excited about your team!”

“They’re really loud out there,” said Lloyd. “It’s really good; the athletes love it!”

“What’s the difference between this and the Sochi track?”

“If you make a mistake on the Sochi track, you lose a little time; a mistake here, however, will bite you every time,” said Lloyd. “Sochi is more of a starter’s track; Placid, more difficult.”

USA bobsledders w kids“The kids are excited,” said venue manager Tony Carlino. “It’s great our having such activity and energy down there. Next week we’re going to Lake Placid, the Middle School I believe, to explain bobsled track refrigeration and the whole thing — to the math classes. It’s great seeing the area’s kids out here, seeing what lifeblood is here in the North Country. They’re learning about the countries, waving the flags. Their cheering makes the athletes feel at home — not out there by themselves. We hope to continue this. It’s been terrific!”

“It’s been a tradition to have kids come out to experience our sliding events,” said ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. “When the schools can come take part, the kinds get to see all these athletes from around the world, hear all these different languages: it opens up the world to them. I wish I’d had that opportunity growing up.”

“The start is cool,” said Kyle France. “They can run pretty fast!”

“Would you like to drive a bobsled?”

“No. Looks too scary!”

“I’d like to try out for the sport, said Connor Reid, cheering for the Czech Republic. “My team is doing pretty good! People should know that the Czechs should win this whole thing.”

“The cold weather isn’t a problem for me as I’ve been living here all my life,” said Annie Smith, cheering South Korea. “I’m eleven. I’ve experienced colder days than this. I think my Koreans are doing pretty well! I don’t really know what place they’re in, but I know they’re doing pretty fine.”

“Would you like to be a bobsledder?”

“Maybe. I like going fast.”

“It is kind of cold but I’m used to it: I do luge,” said Lindsey Smith. I picked luge thinking it would be easier for me. I tried skeleton but decided I like luge better so stuck with Luge. I’m eleven and hope to go to the Olympics in eight years or so. I’m cheering for Germany.”

“The school kids are always a huge thrill for the athletes and staff,” said Darrin Steele, CEO, USA Bobsled Skeleton Federation: “It’s a huge charge to see these kids cheering them on, looking up to them. One thing keeping these athletes going — and all of us really — is their knowing they really are role models, have an impact on the next generation. It shows the younger kids that, when you work hard, great things are possible. It inspires them to set high goals — really important for kids.”

“It’s awesome having all these school kids out here,” said USA lead bobsled driver, Steve Holcomb. “We need all the support we can get! I was one of them at one point; it’s now kind of interesting to be on this side of it. Amongst these kids may be a future gold medalist — you never know.”

“We’re feeling thrilled and happy for the entire USA team, girls and guys,” said Ann Langton, mother of USA bobsledder Steve Langton. “We’ve had a terrific start of the season. All these children out today are pretty cool. They’ve made a great showing!”

Photos: Above, kids cheer the Dutch two-man team at the start; middle, German exchange student Katherin Moser interviewing German public radio journalist Heiko Oldoerp; and below, USA bobsledders with their student supporters.

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Naj Wikoff

Naj Wikoff is an artist who founded Creative Healing Connections, the Lake Placid Institute, and co-founded the Adirondack Film Society-Lake Placid Film Forum.

A two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar, Wikoff has served as president of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, director of arts and healing at the C. Everett Koop Institute, Dartmouth Medical School, and director of Arts and Productions for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Wikoff also covers Adirondack community culture events for the Lake Placid News.

3 Responses

  1. Dean cook says:

    Naj. Great article reminds me of my first time at the track. 1960 world’s
    Watching Eugenio Monti. Win the 2 man. He was a great driver. Back then we could ride from the mile, conservation sleds driven by some of our (US) team members. Certainly the “champagne” of thrills. Dean

    • Terry says:

      Dean…thanks for helping me to remember more details…yes, Monti for one!!…my uncle, Cassius Bruce, used to work as a conservation sled driver…I rode later in life, from the half-mile start…have some neat mementos from those days..

  2. Terry says:

    Very nice article…reminds me of my visits to the bobsled run as an elementary/junior high student…Mom lived in Wilmington…is it possible that Galway was the other school district represented, not Galloway?

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