A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.
Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling. As the sport became a national industry, the New York metropolitan area, along with the resort towns of Saratoga Springs and Long Branch (New Jersey), remained at the center of horse racing with the most outstanding race courses, the largest purses, and the finest thoroughbreds.
Riess narrates the history of horse racing, detailing how and why New York became the national capital of the sport from the mid-1860s until the early twentieth century. The sport’s survival depended upon the racetrack being the nexus between politicians and organized crime.
The powerful alliance between urban machine politics and track owners enabled racing in New York to flourish. Gambling, the heart of racing’s appeal, made the sport morally suspect. Yet democratic politicians protected the sport, helping to establish the State Racing Commission, the first state agency to regulate sport in the United States.
At the same time, racetracks became a key connection between the underworld and Tammany Hall, enabling illegal poolrooms and off-course bookies to operate. Organized crime worked in close cooperation with machine politicians and local police officers to protect these illegal operations.
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In 1962, Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov arrived at the World Championships, and were spotted by Dick Button, who was commentating for ABC sports. On Saturday night, the third of September 2011, he sat next to them during the Tribute show in their honor at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.
In an interview before the show, Button recounted what is special about the Protopopovs. “They had tunnel vision”, he said, “They are a vision of classical skating personified, skating at its very best. The Protopopovs started a generation of style on ice, which was carried on by skaters like John Curry and Janet Lynn”.
After that championship in 1962, the Protopopovs skated to two Olympic titles and four world titles. As professionals, they skated in the World Professional championships, (capturing 4 titles) and performing with companies including the Leningrad Ice Ballet and the Ice Capades.
The Protopopovs defected from the Soviet Union in 1979, becoming citizens of Switzerland. They divide their time between Switzerland, their winter home, and Lake Placid, where they skate from June until October in the Olympic Center.
Their eventual landing in Lake Placid was very sudden. In 1997, the Protopopovs found themselves in the Olympic town after being told of the excellent facilities.
“Our friends were telling us, ‘you must go to Lake Placid, they have beautiful ice arenas’”, said Ludmila Protopopov. “We also wanted to learn from Gus Lussi, who was coaching there. Unfortunately, he had passed away, but when we came to Lake Placid we stayed forever”.
Ironically, Button’s story was similar.
“Everyone told my father, if you want him to get better at skating, send him to Lake Placid”, remembers Button. “Gus Lussi was considered the coach to work with, and we had a magical relationship…. I am still tied to Lake Placid, my family owns homes here”.
Watching the older couple skating on the rink, it is not apparent that they played an important part in the evolution of skating. Not many realize that the Protopopovs were the creators of a variation of the death spiral. The death spiral is a skating move, defined as “an element of pair skating performed with the man in a pivot position, one toe anchored in the ice…. holding his hand, the woman circles her partner on a deep edge with her body almost parallel to the ice”. The original death spiral was first executed in the 1940s, but the Protopopovs created their variations, the Cosmic, Life, and Love spirals, in the 1960s.
“It was a mistake on practice…I slipped from an outside edge to an inside edge. That is what we named the Cosmic spiral.
After the Cosmic spiral, (performed on the backward inside edge,) the Protopopovs invented the Life spiral (forward inside) and the Love spiral (forward outside).
Throughout their careers, whether they are competing, performing in shows, or practicing, the Protopopovs possess a unique dignity and class, both on and off the ice. Dick Button, himself a skating legend, has nothing but compliments for the pair.
“The Protopopovs were the first to be very different. They had a classical, pure style of skating; they were musical and uniform in their skating together. They are classic, balletic skaters; utter perfection. You don’t see skaters like them anymore”.
Button certainly knows what he’s talking about; the Emmy award-winning commentator has been involved in skating since the 1940s, when he was competing himself. He became the 1948 and 1952 Olympic champion, and 5 time World champion. His commentary career started in the 1960s, when he provided commentary for ABC sports. He continued to be a celebrity in figure skating, commentating at most major competitions, organizing several skating shows on television, and serving as figure skating’s most knowledgeable figure. Oleg Protopopov, despite his many achievements, still considers Dick Button an inspiration.
“When I was a boy, my mother brought me an American magazine with Dick Button on the cover. He was doing a split jump, and his position was so extended, his toes were pointed…my mother said, ‘one day you must skate better than him’. It never happened’ ”. Dick Button, however, considered them to have surpassed his skating achievements.
“After the Protopopovs skated, I learned what position and quality truly meant in figure skating”.
Both the Protopopovs and Button believed that skating should be an art form, equal to dance, music, and other creative forms of artistic expression. While current audiences seem to expect a sport instead of art, Button and Protopopov assert that attention should be given to the artistic side of the sport as well, not just the technical.
“What I encourage skaters to do is to take what they learned in a ballet class, or other sort of dance class, and incorporate it in skating”, said Button. “Figure skating can take elements of dance and use it…. it is interesting for me to note where figure skating has gone and where it hasn’t gone over the years”.
But the Protopopovs have held up artistry over the years, and continued skating. Even after Oleg’s stroke in 2009, they continued skating. Only a few weeks after his stroke, the Protopopovs were seen at the rink, Ludmila Protopopov patiently helping Oleg to re-learn how to skate. Skating served as his rehabilitation, and the Protopopovs were well practiced enough to perform a short exhibition performance in the tribute show on September 3rd.
Why do they continue skating? Certainly the Protopopovs are legends, and can retire if they chose. When asked why they continue to skate, Ludmila stated it succinctly:
“I love the music, the flow. Skating is our life”.
The prestigious Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships has long been considered an important pre-season competition for high-level competitive ice dancers. Well known National and Olympic contenders such as Natalie Buck and Trent-Nelson Bond (Australia), Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA), and Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (Canada) have competed at the championships over the years.
Ice Dancing is a discipline of skating that resembles ballroom dancing on ice. Unlike it’s more acrobatic and singles-skating based cousin pairs skating, ice dance requires the participants to interpret different rhythms and styles of dance, all while executing difficult lifts, spins, and footwork sequences.
Starting in 2002, all the disciplines of skating became more difficult and technical; the International Judging System debuted after the pairs judging scandal in the 2002 Olympics. The International Skating Union decided that the figure skating judging system needed an update; what resulted was a more complex, point-based system. Each element has a set point value, and can gain “upgrades” depending on how well or how poorly the element was executed. The entire judging system is difficult to fully explain, but the result is that figure skating has been propelled into a new age of increased technicality. Ice Dancing was no exception.
New to Ice Dance this year was the addition of a short dance. Previously, ice-dancing competition consisted of three segments: a compulsory dance, an original dance, and a free dance.
The Compulsory dance was the most technical part of competition. Couples skated a set pattern of steps to a set rhythm of music. The skaters were judged on how well they executed the timing, character, and steps of the dance. Compulsories were considered in much the same way the now-extinct figures were; an important technical training tool that helped ice dancers with technique and basic skills of dance.
The Original Dance was a segment in which couples were given a specific rhythm (or set of rhythms) and theme to interpret each season. For example, one season it might be a Waltz; the next it could be a Tango. Skaters were given the freedom to choose their own music within the rhythm and their own choreography. However, there were more rules to adhere to, and close skating and partnering positions were important.
Finally, the Free Dance allows the most creativity of the skaters. They are allowed to choose their own music, choreography, and program themes. Although the skaters have been required to insert certain elements in the free dance since 1998, (step sequences, dance spins, lifts, and spin-like turns called twizzles), they are still allowed a certain degree of freedom. Some skaters aim for more traditional free dances (waltzes, tangoes, etc) while others push the envelope and incorporate such themes as “Star Trek” and “Riverdance” into the segment.
Incorporated after the 2009-2010 season, the short dance aims to combine elements of the compulsory dance and original dance into one segment. Other figure skating disciplines only have two segments, which was one of the considerations put forth to the ISU, and led them to eliminate the compulsory and original dance from competition and insert the short dance instead.
The short dance requires couples to adhere to a pattern (like the compulsory dance) but they must skate to a designated rhythm and perform specific elements.
This year marked the first time the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships include the short dance in competition; the Championships draw International and National skaters.
Perspective. It is a singular word that can determine a life’s path, quality, and value to others. Those born to all manner of social and financial advantage, but with little change or improvement during their own lifetimes, can be perceived as relative failures, while those who strive to overcome physical, mental, or financial handicaps are viewed as accomplished, no matter what their ultimate achievement might be.
By that measure, one of the most successful citizens to ever have graced the North Country is largely unknown. He was an ordinary man blessed with athletic talent, and raised in a family of outstanding musicians. In the end, it was courage that defined him.
Dean Clute was born in Morristown, New York, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in October 1893. The fourth of Amos and Henrietta Clute’s seven children, he was an average boy who enjoyed the usual pursuits along the river, as well as in Nicholville, a small settlement in the town of Hopkinton where the family lived for many years.
They also lived in Potsdam, but for most of Dean’s teen years the family resided in Ogdensburg. There he attained a measure of local fame for his skill on the baseball field. After high school, he found work on a Great Lakes lighthouse tender, a ship charged with servicing and maintaining the region’s lighthouses.
Among the many ports he visited was Rochester, and in June 1912, a marriage license was issued there to Dean Clute, 18, and Eva McLennan, 25, a girl with family in Ogdensburg. The two soon married, but just seven months later, in January 1913, Eva passed away at home. (It’s likely she died during childbirth. Dean told interviewers years later that he married at 18 but had lost his wife and child on the same day.)
It was an enormous tragedy to endure, but Dean soldiered on. Eventually he found work in a profession he knew quite well: baseball. Over six feet tall and sturdily built, he immersed himself in the sport and became a pitcher of wide repute in Buffalo, Rochester, and Watertown.
Manager John Ganzel (of Michigan’s famed Ganzel baseball family) liked what he saw and signed Dean to play for the Rochester Hustlers of the International League in 1914. This was no small shakes—the International League was Triple-A ball, just one step below the major leagues. Things were once again looking pretty good for the boy from Morristown.
Prior to the season, though, and less than a year after losing his wife and child, Dean began experiencing unusual aches and pains. The diagnosis was arthritis, a disease not generally associated with young, strong, twenty-year-old athletes.
And this was no ordinary case. The effects were so sudden and so debilitating that Dean was unable to honor his baseball contract. He visited several doctors and treatment centers, but no one could do anything to arrest the arthritic attack that seemed bent on consuming his body.
Within a year he was confined to a wheelchair, and as the disease progressed, Dean became bedridden. He moved to Watertown where he could be with family (his father and brother had established a successful contracting business there and built several commercial structures).
After three years of focusing on his own suffering and watching his limbs become gnarled and useless, Clute had an epiphany. His body was dying, but his mind was as clear as ever—so why not use it? His eyes could still move, which meant he could read, even if he needed someone to turn the pages for him. And so he began to read voraciously, ranging from philosophy to the great classics of literature.
As Dean’s condition deteriorated, it became apparent that home care was insufficient to meet his ever-growing needs. In 1922 he moved to New York City in hopes of finding a cure. Within two years, younger brother Walton (twin of Wilton) joined him there.
Despite every effort on his behalf, Dean’s health continued to decline, and by 1924 he was forced to enter City Hospital on Welfare Island (it was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1973). At various times Welfare Island hosted hospitals, insane asylums, and prisons. City Hospital housed hundreds of poor and chronically ill patients who were unable to care for themselves. Dean Clute, almost completely paralyzed from head to toe, had nowhere else to turn.
More than anything else, it appeared he had gone there to die. The loss of his wife and child, the disappointment of a sports career cruelly snatched away from him, and now a virtual prisoner within his own body—it was almost too much for any man to bear.
And then it got worse. In the hospital, Dean had maintained his heavy reading program, which seemed to be all he had left to live for. But arthritis, as cold-blooded and brutal as many other diseases, wasn’t content with paralysis. Clute soon developed problems with his vision, and as the condition worsened, he was given the stunning diagnosis: total blindness was inevitable.
Doctors told him it would happen in a year, perhaps two. How much could one man take? For Dean, even suicide was impossible—he couldn’t move! And yet ending it all was never a consideration.
His reaction to certain loss of vision was to ramp up his reading program and consume every bit of knowledge possible in the time he had left. The one-time athlete had surrendered to physical helplessness, but he existed within a brain still vibrant with energy. Dean’s growing intellect was now insatiable, and he read like a man possessed.
By 1926, after two years at City Hospital, total blindness enveloped him. His life now consisted of darkness and immobility—virtually every person’s nightmare scenario.
But there was that word again: Perspective. Dean focused on what he COULD do rather than what he couldn’t. He could still talk and he could still learn.
Next week: Part 2 of 3.
Photo: Dean Van Clute with two attendants. The inset in the upper right is a closeup of Dean’s face (1932).
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
The United States Olympic Committee’s Lake Placid Olympic Training Center and the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) are teaming up to present Olympic Day, Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Olympic Training Center, 196 Old Military Rd., in Lake Placid. Village of Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall will open Olympic Day with the Olympic Day Proclamation.
The free event gives families and youngsters the chance to try Olympic sports and meet athletes from biathlon, luge, bobsled, ski jumping and Nordic combined, freestyle aerials, speed skating, figure skating and canoe and kayak. Plus participants can try luge on the fully refrigerated indoor start ramps at USA Luge’s headquarters. Visitors can also watch athletes train, including 2010 U.S. bobsled Olympian John Napier. » Continue Reading.
On Sunday over 200 cyclists participated in the Wilmington/Whiteface 100 K race. While some were hoping just to complete the challenging 57-mile course, others were aiming to qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race (LT100). People from all walks of life competed in this event, from professionals to Olympic athletes.
The Leadville 100 was created in 1994 and participants previously had to gain access by using a lottery system; now, athletes hoping to complete in the prestigious race can qualify through one of the qualifying races in Wilmington, Tahoe, and Crested Butte. Each of the three races allow 100 racers to qualify for spots in the LT 100; 50 of these slots are based on age group performance, while the other 50 with a drawing among the athletes who finished within the time standard. Wilmington’s race, along with the other two in the western part of the country, is one of the inaugural races, as 2011 is the first year ever to allow athletes to qualify. » Continue Reading.
Adirondack tourism officials have put together a list summer golf package deals for under $100 per person, per night. The Adirondack regions includes more than 60 golf courses, all within a day’s drive for more than 60 million people. Golfing Adirondack vacation packages under $100 include: The Cedar River Golf Course & Motel in Indian Lake offer a classic Adirondack golf getaway for golfers on a budget. Room rates range from $47 – $80 pp/per night. Green fees are $15 for nine holes and $22 for 18 holes.
The Bluff Point Golf & Country Club in Plattsburgh offers a midweek Golf & Stay package with one night’s accommodations for $79 pp, and Golf & Stay weekend package for $89 pp. Rates are based on double and quadruple occupancy, and include two rounds of golf and cart rental.
Stay & Golf at The Northwoods Inn for just $99 pp/per night. Chose from three Adirondack golf courses, and enjoy the ambiance and convenience of staying right on Lake Placid’s bustling Main Street. Package includes accommodations, greens fees, cart rental for full 18-holes, breakfast and two drink coupons.
Golf the St. Lawrence Seaway and save with the Best Western University Inn in Canton’s summer golf package. The $95 pp/per night weekday package and $100 per person/per night weekend package includes unlimited golf with cart, complimentary bucket of balls, drink coupons and a 10 percent discount at the pro shop.
The Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club in Lake Placid is offering a Spring Midweek Golf & Stay Package for $99 pp/ per night. This Adirondack golf package includes golf at two of the Lake Placid Club’s courses, breakfast and accommodations. Golfers who book two night’s midweek, receive a third round of golf free.
Adirondack golf packages under $200:
Courtyard by Marriott Lake Placid’s Peak Season Midweek Golf Package is $129 pp/per night. Good through October 2, this package includes accommodations, golf and cart rental, and breakfast for two. Blackout dates apply.
The Edge Hotel in the western Adirondack town of Turin is offering two Stay & Play Golf packages. For $193, guests can stay for one night in a standard or king room. The package includes dinner for two, green fees and cart rental. The Edge is also partnering with Turin Highlands Golf Course to offer a similar package for $205 pp/per night.
Top of the World Golf Resort in Lake George offers 18 holes amid the beautiful scenery of Lake George. Stay & Play packages provide reduced green fees and are subject to availability. For under $200, guests can stay and play on the Top of the World.
The Saranac Inn and Golf Course is offering two nights’ accommodations and two full days of golf for $200 pp. Package includes breakfast, unlimited golf and guaranteed tee times at the Saranac inn Golf & Country Club.
Baseball has its World Series, football the Super Bowl and mountain biking has the Leadville Trail 100. The Leadville 100 (LT 100) is legendary. Since 1994, the 103 mile long race, set 13,000 feet up in the treacherous Colorado Rocky terrain has tested each rider’s determination. Among those tested at LT 100 have been seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, and Levi Leipheimer, the 2006 winner of the Dauphiné Libéré, and 2005 Deutschland Tour champion.
For the first time, one of the LT100 qualifying races will take place this Sunday, June 19, in Wilmington. The inaugural Wilmington/Whiteface 100k is expected to bring more than 300 top cyclists to the area, each hoping to grab one of 100 coveted spots into the LT 100. The race is part of the second Wilmington/Whiteface Bike Fest, a four-day event which also includes the Whiteface Uphill Road Race and the “Brainless Not Chainless Gravity Ride.” The Bike Fest is expected to bring an additional 4,000 bike enthusiasts to the Wilmington area. » Continue Reading.
Team Placid Planet, a cycling and multisport club based in Lake Placid and the High Peaks Region, will host the 4th Annual Wilmington-Whiteface Road Race on Saturday, June 11th and the 3rd Annual Saranac Lake Downtown Criterium (NYS Criterium Championships) on Sunday, June 12th. Both races are sanctioned by USA Cycling, the national cycling sanctioning body, and provide opportunities for men, women, and youth of a variety of experience levels as well as first-time racers to participate.
More than $4,600 in cash and merchandise prizes, medals and trophies will be awarded. A portion of the proceeds from the race will be donated to local charities in Wilmington and Saranac Lake. » Continue Reading.
Seventy-five years ago, the Adirondacks were abuzz about a precocious athletic phenom, a plucky teenager who exhibited incredible abilities on the golf course. The best players across the region were impressed by this remarkable child who could compete with anyone on the toughest courses. In a man’s world, this youngster—a girl—could challenge the best of them.
Marjorie Harrison, daughter of Neil and Eva, was born in 1918 in the town of North Elba. Her dad earned a living as a golf-club maker, eventually moving to Ausable Forks to assume the position of club professional at the Indole Course.
Having first wielded a club at the age of three, young Marjorie began developing her golfing skills on the local links. In a shocking glimpse of future possibilities, she won the women’s cup at Indole in 1928 when she was just ten years old. In 1932, the loss of her mom, Eva, to pneumonia, tested Margie’s inner strength, but that was something the young girl never lacked. With few team sporting possibilities available to girls, she excelled at horseback riding, skating, skiing, shooting, and, of course, golf, which are largely solo pursuits requiring heavy doses of self-reliance.
Neil soon began to eye the amateur golf tour as a challenge for his highly skilled daughter. In sports, the term amateur revealed nothing in regards to talent—it only meant that a competitor was unpaid, and thus pure (unsullied by the world of professional athletics).
At that time, there was no golf tour for women professionals. Nearly all the best players competed for cups, trophies, prestige, and for the sake of competition. Turning pro was rare. Only a few of the top women players were signed to represent major sporting goods companies. Once money was accepted, they forfeited all eligibility to compete in amateur events. Men lived in a different world, but for women, a professional golf tour was more than a decade away.
In August, 1933, Marjorie Harrison played in the state event at Bluff Point just south of Plattsburgh, where an international field offered stellar competition. She fairly burst onto the New York golfing scene, battling to the semifinal round, where a seasoned opponent awaited.
Incredibly, Margie went on to lead her semifinal match by one hole going to the 18th (nearly all tournaments featured head-to-head match play). There, she faltered, three-putting the final green to lose her advantage. But with steely resolve, Margie parred the single playoff hole for the win, sending her to the finals.
In the championship round she faced Mrs. Sylvia Voss, an outstanding golfer who promptly won the first three holes, putting Margie far behind. Bringing her power game to the fore, Harrison tied the match by the 14th and led by one at the 17th, but lost the last hole to finish in a tie. Just like in the semifinals, a playoff was necessary.
And, just like in the semifinals, Marjorie holed a par putt to win on the first playoff hole. She was barely 15 years old and had conquered some of the best golfers in an international tourney.
From Boston to Dallas to the West Coast, newspapers touted her great accomplishment. The New York Times wrote, “Swinging a wicked driver and with iron shots of unusual precision … Marjorie Harrison of Au Sable Forks won her first major golf tourney today.” She was also featured in The American Golfer magazine for the Bluff Point win.
In 1934, Marjorie, 16, made it once again to the finals at Bluff Point, where she was set to face Dorothy Campbell Hurd, a golfing legend. Hurd, 51, owned 749 victories, 11 national amateur titles, and once held the American, British, and Canadian titles at one time.
They played even through 16 holes, but Hurd pulled out the win on the final two greens. A gracious opponent and future member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Hurd was clearly impressed, saying, “With a little more experience, no woman golfer will be in the same class with Miss Harrison. She is a future champion that bears watching by the leading golfers.”
Hurd was right—there was much more to come, including several wins over the next few years. Margie finished near the top in virtually every tournament she entered. Some were very gutsy performances featuring remarkable comebacks, but most were head-to-head battles where mistakes seemed to have no effect on her. She was one tough competitor, always playing with grace, humility, and great determination.
In 1935, Marge finished second in the New York State Championships, and then reached the semifinals each of the next three years. Another major breakthrough came in July, 1937, when she shot a 37 on the final 18 holes at Rutland, Vermont (near her dad’s home area of Castleton) to win the Vermont state title. She was just a few months past her 19th birthday.
At Brattleboro in 1938, Marjorie successfully defended her Vermont title with a birdie on the 15th hole to clinch the win. Other highlights that year included shattering the course record at Bluff Point; winning at Lake Placid; and teaming up with the legendary Gene Sarazen in a remarkable comeback to win a benefit tourney.
For years, Marjorie was at the top of New York’s competitive golfing scene, which attracted some of the best players in the country. Despite the high level of play, it was considered an upset NOT to see her name in the semifinals of any tournament she entered. Whether in Quebec, Syracuse, the Berkshires, Briarcliff, or anywhere else she competed, the North Country’s ambassador of golf was respected and admired for her sportsmanship and fine play.
Many club titles were won and course records set by Marjorie, including at Bluff Point, Lake Placid, Albany, and Troy. She wowed the crowd at Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, battling fiercely to finish second in the Mason-Dixon tournament. Some golf writers pointed out that unlike athletes from warm-weather areas, Miss Harrison achieved great success despite playing only a few months of the year, and while attending high school and different colleges.
Though still a youngster, she returned to Ausable Forks in 1940 for a career review at a testimonial dinner—and for good reason. A few days earlier, at the age of 22, Marjorie had overwhelmed all comers and captured the New York State Women’s Golf Championship.
She maintained her winning ways, but during the World War II years, sports were sharply curtailed across the country to conserve fuel for the troops. Opportunities were meager, but Margie picked up two wins in 1944, followed by a stellar performance that led her once again to the finals of the New York State Championship Tournament.
Her talented opponent in the finals, Ruth Torgersen, was a very familiar combatant from many past matches. Torgersen, in fact, would go on to win a record seven NYS championships and be named New York’s Golfer of the Century.
On this day the two stars battled for 32 holes, at which point Marjorie held a three-hole lead. But on the 33rd, a stroke of bad luck left her ball balanced atop a bunker. Deemed an unplayable lie, it cost her the hole as Torgerson was quick to take advantage and cut the deficit to two.
Undaunted, Margie looked down the fairway of the 346-yard 16th hole and blasted a 200-yard drive. She nearly holed her second shot from 146 yards out, and then tapped in an easy putt for her second New York State title.
In that same year, the Women’s Professional Golf Association was formed, to be replaced six years later by the LPGA. Had she been born years later, there’s a good chance the girl from the Adirondacks would have won a good deal of prize money. For Marjorie Harrison, though, life took a different path.
After completing college, she had begun a career as a physical education teacher. In June, 1946, while still competing and winning, she married Bart O’Brien, himself a star golfer at Indole, the Ausable Forks course managed by her father, Neil.
For a while she competed as Marjorie Harrison O’Brien, but when Bart took a job teaching in the Oneida school system, they moved there and began raising a family. Semi-retired, Marge played occasionally in tournaments, but by 1954 she was busy raising three children, teaching, and becoming a very active participant in the community.
She began giving adult golf lessons, and children’s lessons soon followed. Bart became school principal, and together he and Marjorie maintained a high profile as community leaders. Honors were bestowed on both of them for their work in the school system, and in 1970 she was chosen as an honorary life member of the Oneida school district PTA.
In 1973, Marjorie was named Outstanding Citizen by the Oneida Rotary, and Bart was cited several times for his work on behalf of the organization. Through it all, they maintained close ties annually with family in the Ausable Forks area, where her dad, Neil, still held the position of golf pro at Indole through the mid-1960s.
Marjorie Harrison O’Brien passed away in 1999, and Bart died in 2004—two natives the North Country can truly be proud of.
Photo: Young Marjorie Harrison, golfer extraordinaire.
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
A second Olympic bobsledder has joined the New York Army National Guard. Nicholas Cunningham, a member of the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team in 2010, will take time away from training in Lake Placid to become a Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for the 1156th Engineer Company in Kingston, NY.
In January Olympic Gold Medal Bobsledder Justin Olsen enlisted in the New York Army National Guard under the same program. Olsen has been a member of the United States Bobsled team since 2007; he will report for basic training at the end of April. “I just signed my papers with the New York Army National Guard and I’m off to basic training in two weeks,” Cunningham said in a Twitter message sent last Monday.
Olsen said he began thinking about the National Guard when his fellow USA Bobsled teammate Mike Kohn, who was then a sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard, told him about the Army National Guard and the Army Athlete Program.
Olsen made the World Cup team in his first season and became one of the nation’s top bobsledders, he is one of two pushers on the four-man team.
In 2008, Olsen earned a spot on sled USA 1 with driver Steven Holcomb, winning two silver and two bronze medals in the first half of the World Cup tour. Olsen also helped push Holcomb to a first place finish at the 2009 National Championships for four-man and a silver medal at the inaugural World Cup in Whistler, Canada.
At the 2009 World Championships, Olsen teamed with Holcomb again to win gold in the four-man and a Gold Medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Cunningham, 27, who took 12th place in the 2010 Winter Olympics in the two-man bobsled category, made the official switch from the back of the sled to the driver’s seat, and has been named as an emerging elite driver for the U.S. program. Coaches expect Cunningham to be vying for a spot on the national team as a pilot next season.
Once they complete their individual entry training, both men are expected to apply for the Army World Class Athlete Program which provides athletes with support and training to compete in national and international competitions while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the US Army.
Selection in the Army World Class Athlete program is open to members of the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard who compete in an Olympic sport and have maintained good military standing. Once a National Guard Soldier is selected, they are brought on active duty and performance is monitored for selection and attendance to required military schools to ensure program Soldiers remain competitive with their military counterparts.
Since the program’s inception in 1997, 40 Soldier-athletes have participated in the summer and winter Olympic Games winning Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic Medals.
Photo: 2010 Olympic Gold Medal Winner Justin Olsen displays his Gold Medal after enlisting into the New York Army National Guard, Jan. 7. Photo by SFC Steven Petibone, New York Army National Guard.
Even though the weather might not reflect the shifting seasons, it’s already spring and summer is just around the corner. Winter sports fans and athletes might be wondering what to do in Lake Placid during the summer season; luckily, there are plenty of options available. Here are just a few:
Skate on the historic rinks in the Olympic Center. For the figure skater, there is an 8 week summer camp from June until the end of August. Visit Lake Placid Skating for more information. Can Am Hockey offers tournaments and camps all summer; check out their website. If you’re interested in public skating, there are sessions available during the summer; visit the ORDA website for details.
Visit the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum in the Olympic Center for a dose of Lake Placid Olympic History. They are open 10 am to 5 pm daily, and admission is 6 dollars for adults and 4 for children and seniors. Call 518-523-1655 for more information.
Bobsled rides are not just for ice, you can take the wheeled version during the summer. Visit the ORDA information page for details.
If you desire an biathlon experience, “Be a Biathlon” sessions are available. Shoot a .22 caliber rifle and test your marksmanship skills on the winter biathlon targets. The experience includes an intro to biathlon rifles and safety as well as two rounds of target shooting. For more information visit their page.
All ages and abilities can try their favorite winter and summer Olympic sports in a safe environment with the Gold Medal Adventures program. Activities include wheel luge, wheel bobsled, and venue tours. Call 518-523-1655 for more information.
Watch figure skating and hockey in the Olympic Center, or get the inside scoop on the venue by taking a tour. Admission is 10 dollars a person. For tour times call 518-523-1655.
See where Olympic athletes live and train while in Lake Placid by visiting the Olympic Training Center. Tours of the facility are available at 3 pm on weekdays. For more information call them at 518-523-2600.
Summer is a great time to visit Lake Placid, many summer versions of winter sports are available, as well as summer sports like golf, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, running, cycling, and more.
After the successful return of the Empire State Games, many might be wondering what else there is to do in Lake Placid. Even though the Games are gone, there are still plenty of opportunities to participate in winter sports.
Rescheduled from February to March, the Adirondack International Toboggan Championships will take place at the Lake Placid Toboggan Chute on March 5th.
The competition starts at 3:30 pm with the Mayor’s Cup, where local politicians will race for bragging rights. The Mayor’s Cup was brought back to the Championships as it was a popular event in the 1960s and 1970s. After the Mayor’s Cup, the general public can race for prizes including hotel stays, Whiteface ski passes, and more. Registration will begin at 2 pm the day of the race, and entries are 10 dollars per person or 40 dollars per sled. The Adirondack International Toboggan Championships are sponsored by Rock 105 and Saranac and Lake Placid Craft Brewing, and all proceeds benefit USA Luge. For more information, visit their website at www.adktobogganchampionship.com.
If you are in the mood for skiing into spring, Whiteface will be hosting Springfest activities throughout March. The first weekend of March, Mardi Gras activities will prevail; listen to the funk, R &B and soul group Jocamo and collect beads while enjoying the snow. The second weekend of March will feature St Patrick’s day festivities including Irish food and activities. Shamrock Sunday on March 13th will allow all visitors to ski and ride all day for just $35 for adults, $30 for teens and $25 for juniors. March 19th and 20th is Reggae weekend with live music, and March 26th and 27th will feature music from Y Not Blue for a Pirate Party. There’s always something to do on Whiteface in March!
If skiing is not your style, the Lake Placid Oval is still open…for more information, visit the orda website at whiteface.com or independent website lakeplacidoval.com for ice conditions.
More than 2,300 skaters from 150 teams throughout the eastern United States will compete at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid during the 2011 Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships, Feb. 3-5.
The event, which was last held in Lake Placid in 1998, is a qualifier to the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. The top four finishers in the senior, junior, novice, intermediate, juvenile, collegiate, adult and masters divisions will move on to the 2011 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, March 2-5, in Ontario, California.
Organized by the Olympic Regional Development Authority with the Skating Club of Lake Placid, and sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating, the event will feature teams from as far south as North Carolina to as far north as Maine. Synchronized skating is the fastest growing discipline of figure skating. Teams consist of eight to 20 athletes, each moving as one flowing unit. Each team performs a free skating program made up of required formations and footwork sequences with emphasis on precise movements, unison of team members and creativity. Junior and senior level teams will also perform a short program.
Tickets for the 2011 Eastern Synchronized Team Skating Sectional Championships are $15 per day for adults and $12 for juniors and seniors. Teams to watch include world silver medalists, the Haydenettes (senior); world junior team alternates, the Lexettes (junior); national champions, Ice Mates (novice); national bronze medalists, the University of Delaware (collegiate) and national champions, Esprit de Corps (adult).
Despite the chilly weather this weekend, US skiers heated up Whiteface Mountain with excellent performances at the Nature Valley Freestyle World Cup.
On Friday gymnast turned skier Ashley Caldwell surprised all by winning gold in the Aerials competition. Her second jump, a double flip, scored an impressive 99.93. Ryan St Onge, the reigning World Champion, placed second behind China’s Guangpu Qi. Vermont’s Hannah Kearney dominated the moguls competition, winning both days and skiing cleanly to capture another gold medal. Kearney is currently the overall World Cup leader. For the Men’s Moguls Competition, Guilbaut Colas of France won the gold, his second in two days. World Cup moguls competition will continue next weekend in Calgary, AB. The next location for competition will be the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, UT for the World Championships Feb. 2-5. The World Championship Team will be named Jan. 31.
NBC and Versus will be broadcasting the Nature Valley Freestyle Competition. NBC’s coverage is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 29, at 2 p.m., and Versus’ coverage is slated to begin at 3 p.m., Saturday. Versus will also air coverage of the event, Sunday, Jan. 30, beginning at 2 p.m. For more information, check your local listings.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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