Olympians bring medals home to Lake Placid

LAKE PLACID – A dozen Olympic athletes walked in a parade Sunday, bringing six Sochi medals home to the village that was home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.

The 12 local Olympians were alpine skier and silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht, luge bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, bobsled double bronze medalists Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton, bobsledder Justin Olsen and seven other lugers: Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West, Aidan Kelly, Summer Britcher, Jayson Terdiman, Matt Mortensen and Kate Hansen. Weibrecht was born and raised in Lake Placid. Mazdzer has called Saranac Lake home since childhood. The other 10 moved to Lake Placid for training.

Leading the parade was the Lake Placid Middle/High School marching band, followed by local and state politicians, Olympic athletes, numerous local youth winter sports groups and a row of fire trucks, all proceeding from Cummings Road down Main Street to the Cottage Cafe. From the cafe deck the Olympic athletes and politicians gave speeches to a crowd that filled the street.

After the speeches, the ceremony moved to the nearby ice surface of Mirror Lake, where a torch was passed from Langton to Holcomb to Hamlin and finally to Weibrecht, who lit a cauldron. Fireworks were shot from the surface of the lake at about 7:30 p.m.

On the street

Gathered along Main Street were fans and locals cheering for the returning Olympians in single-digit-degree weather. The Lake Placid Police Department estimated around 300 people were there.

Tom and Nancy Barneveld of Westchester County were especially excited to see Hamlin.

“We know the Hamlin family,” Tom Barnevald said.

He said it was a great accomplishment for her to become the first female luger to win an Olympic medal.

“It’s great for the whole country,” Nancy Barneveld said.

Terry Vellone and Bridget Degrot of Lake Placid were also at the parade celebrating.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Vellone said. “This is truly one of the great sports towns in the country. This is truly what makes America great.”

Speeches

The Olympians who spoke outside the Cottage were Langton, Hamlin, Holcomb and Weibrecht. North Elba Town Supervisor Roby Politi, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, state Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec and Ted Blazer, head of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, also gave speeches. Sandy Caligiore was the master of ceremonies.

“(1980 Olympics U.S. hockey coach) Herb Brooks once said, just down the road in the Olympic Center, that great moments are born from great opportunities,” Politi said. “The opportunities for these great Olympians were made possible by families and friends, coaches and volunteers.”

Little said Lake Placid is a special place where young men and women can dream of becoming Olympic athletes. Of the 12 in the parade, she said, “They’ve had a lifetime experience and given us a great experience because we get to cheer them on.”

Stec said the athletes are great role models for children.

Randall welcomed the Olympians home and spoke of Lake Placid’s Olympic history.

Hamlin said it was great to be back and bring her bronze medal home.

“It’s great to get back to Lake Placid and see a lot of familiar faces,” Hamlin said. “I grew up only two-and-a-half hours away from here (in Remsen). I’ve been spending a majority of my years up here since I was 12. It’s a great second home.”

Weibrecht gave the final speech of the night, saying he was glad he had done something that made everyone proud.

“Four years ago we had another parade, and there was a lot of really tough times personally, with injuries and stuff, for me between then and now,” Weibrecht said. “It took all the support of an amazing community like Lake Placid to get me back to that level … to really represent everyone the best way I could.

“I’m very fortunate to have all of you as a support system. … It’s been a huge team effort.”

The homecoming

Many of the Olympians returned home on Friday. The experience was surprising to some.

“I got home two days ago,” Langton said. “Nine weeks on the road is a long time. … To come and bring two medals home is incredible.”

Mazdzer said it was great to see his friends on the street whom he hadn’t seen in weeks.

“It was really cool actually walking down the street and recognizing everyone and them recognizing me,” Mazdzer said. “Cheering and waving at me, like, ‘Chris is back.’ It’s an awesome feeling.

“As I’m walking in the parade I’m like, ‘This is for us. This is really weird.'”

Hamlin said she was surprised to see how many people showed up considering how cold it was.

“It’s freezing out,” Hamlin said. “It’s great for everyone to show up. It’s an area with such a great Olympic history.”

“Lake Placid is just an amazing place to be for an athlete,” Weibrecht said. “My friends from Park City (Utah) don’t have the type of support I do here.”

Weibrecht said it was much better this time to have so many other Olympic athletes alongside him in Lake Placid’s post-Olympic parade. Four years ago, he was the only one.

Asked about his silver-medal-winning run, Weibrecht said the achievement has now sunken in.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind last month,” he said.

Weibrecht said now that the ski season is over, he plans to take one thing at a time and is looking forward to next season.

Dillon Smith, 16, an alpine skier from Northwood School, in Lake Placid took photos with Weibrecht after the cauldron lighting. Weibrecht is a Northwood alumnus.

“It’s really impressive and an inspiration,” Smith said. “If he can do it with enough motivation and determination so can I.”

Weibrecht said there is just something special about his hometown.

“I think the Olympic spirit is very alive and strong,” Weibrecht said. “It’s that vibe we have here.”