Local Olympians celebrated with parade, pep rally

SARANAC LAKE – Seven local athletes who competed at the Sochi Winter Olympics were given the star treatment Wednesday in a homecoming celebration put on by the communities that they say helped them achieve their dreams.

Biathlon athletes Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Annelies Cook, ski jumper Peter Frenette, nordic combined athlete Billy Demong, bobsledder Jamie Greubel and luger Aidan Kelly rode down Broadway and Main Street in a Saranac Winter Carnival Royalty float that had been retrofitted with Olympic rings, a “Sochi 2014” logo and red and white tinsel.

Roughly 250 people braved temperatures in the teens and lined the streets, mostly the sunny side of the streets, waving flags, holding up signs and cheering for their hometown Olympians. The athletes’ parents and past Olympians from the area also marched in the parade. They were joined by elected officials from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, the Saranac Lake High School marching band, local elementary and middle-school children, and kids in the nordic skiing program at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center. Several of the Olympians grew up skiing at Dewey Mountain.

The parade ended on the steps of the Harrietstown Town Hall where Greubel, a bobsledder who lives in Lake Placid, lit an Olympic cauldron. A pep rally-like ceremony followed inside. The athletes gave speeches thanking the community for its support, then signed autographs and posed for pictures with their fans.

“This is a really special town,” said Demong, a Vermontville native and five-time Olympian. “I don’t think there’s another public high school in the country that can boast that they sent five athletes to the Olympics this winter. … What we do have is a very strong community with a sense of support that embraces and pushes our athletes forward.”

Burke, Cook, Demong, Frenette and luger Chris Mazdzer, who also competed in Sochi but wasn’t able to make Wednesday’s parade, all went to Saranac Lake High School.

Earlier in the day, the Olympians took part in a question and answer session with students at the high school. They also took a ride on the Adirondack Carousel merry-go-round.

Wednesday’s festivities were organized by the Saranac Lake Women’s Civic Chamber and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.