Olympic community cares about athletes

Lake Placid is often called the Olympic Village, and the area around it the Olympic Region. These are important reminders of the area’s two Winter Olympics, but visitors usually see that only as history.

It’s certainly one heck of a history, but the great thing is that there’s so much more to it.

To locals, it’s more like the “Olympic Community” – a living, current, ever-changing thing that values Bill Demong and Andrew Weibrecht’s 2010 medals even higher than the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” or Eric Heiden’s five golds, because, hey, Billy and Andrew grew up here. We know them. We know their parents and siblings. They’re part of our community. They’re the ones our kids idolize.

The Olympic Community is a culture of lining up outside the ski and skate swap to get the best deals, and meeting half the people you know there. It’s about getting your kids on boards and blades when they’re 2 or 3 years old. It’s about struggling with incentives to get them into the woods for cross-county ski outings. It’s a place where the places parents chat are ice rinks and ski centers, where a high school’s nordic ski team has more than 5 percent of the student body, where churches have to schedule their religious education around hockey practice, where middle schoolers do luge and bobsledding and ski jumping, where people stay active all winter and laugh at the cold because it sure beats cabin fever.

Go a few miles in any direction, and it’s not like this. Sure, they like to play hockey and ski, but it doesn’t pervade the society the way it does here. At potluck dinners, they don’t talk about where they’ve been out skiing. If you wait tables in Malone or Plattsburgh, your chances of working with an Olympic hopeful are pretty much nil, but in Lake Placid, it’s pretty likely.

It’s a culture that gets very fired up every four years, a place that has sent at least one local athlete to every Winter Olympics, starting in 1924 in Chamonix, France. It sent 12 to the 2010 games, and that’s just the ones who either grew up here or have made the area their year-round home – not including those who live here half the year to train, or who have done so in the past.

This is a place where the small local newspaper sends reporters to cover those Olympians in places like Salt Lake City, Vancouver and, this February, Sochi, Russia. Our senior sports writer, Lou Reuter, will cover his third winter games in February. For our senior news reporter, Chris Knight, it’ll be his first. (We had previously reported that Sports Writer Mike Lynch would accompany Lou, but he opted out, so now it’s Chris.) We’re thrilled to be able to bring you this kind of close-up reporting from halfway around the world.

All of this brings us to Sunday’s Send-off to Sochi, at 4 p.m. at the ski jumps. The state Olympic Regional Development Authority – a big part of the Olympic Community up here – will host this opportunity for local people to meet local winter athletes and wish them well on the road to becoming 2014 Olympians. This weekend happens to be a time when most of our Olympic prospects are here in town: Ski jumpers and nordic combined skiers are competing in national championships – we don’t even wait for winter to do winter sports here – and the sliding sports are in the middle of team trials at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Unfortunately, the local biathletes will miss it – they have to fly out today for a three-week training camp in Utah – but they’ll be back in town for a bit in November before their World Cup season begins.

We encourage you to attend the Send-off to Sochi. This is the kind of thing the Olympic Community is all about. It’s a continuation of the small-town Olympic spirit that charmed the world at the 1932 and 1980 winter games. It’s the way the Winter Olympics originally were, before they outgrew the mountain towns that gave them birth.