The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that's wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.
- John Towner Williams -
If you asked a random person what Lake Placid is known for you'd most likely get one of two answers. The giant crocodile that patrols our waters or what is considered by most to be the greatest moment in sports history. And while the latter is true (Lake Placid anglers confirm the only large, toothy residents of our waters are a delicious and abundant population of northern pike) the relationship between the northern Adirondack Mountains and the Winter Olympics is far greater. You see, for nearly a century the Adirondack Mountains has grown Olympians.
Olympic from the Start
On the morning of Saturday, January 26, 1924, in Chamonix, France, 27 of the world's finest speed skaters took the ice for the 500m event. It was the first event of the first Olympic Winter Games. Clas Thunberg of Finland was largely favored in the event, but while he would go home with three gold medals, in the 1500m, 5000m, and the now-defunct all-round event, the 500m and a place in history as the first-ever gold medalist in Winter Olympic history would belong to Charles Jewtraw of Lake Placid, NY. His medal can be seen on display at the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute but the ice he trained on remains in Lake Placid, just take a step on to the Mirror Lake loop.
There Must Be Something in the Water
Charles Jewtraw may have been the first athlete from the Northern Adirondacks to have had the honor of representing the United States in the Olympic Winter Games but he wouldn't be the last. Competitors from Lake Placid and the surrounding areas have been on every Winter Olympic team, in fact, some families have sent multiple generations to the winter Olympics, like Jack Shea who won two gold medals in speed skating at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY (he didn't have to travel very far to get them home) whose son, Jim Shea, represented the US at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, in cross-country skiing events and grandson Jimmy Shea won a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City games in skeleton.
Perhaps it is because the ideal conditions for winter sports remain ideal for so much longer than in most locales.
While most of the world enjoys a 3-month winter season, the Olympic Region often sees its first substantial snowfall in November and often doesn't see spring's first blooms until at least April.
Perhaps it is because snow sports are uniquely accessible to Adirondack residents.
An introduction to a life-long passion for snow sports can be as easy as donning a refurbished pair of cross-country skis and walking out your back door or spending an inexpensive afternoon at a small-town ski hill like Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake.
And perhaps it is because the stories and memories of athletes from previous games are woven into the shared fabric of our culture.
Growing up in the Adirondacks is to grow up hearing stories of Olympic competition from someone who has been there and it isn't at all unusual to skate out on to the ice or head into the woods for a day of skiing or snowshoeing and run into someone who has taken home a championship in the sport.
I suspect it is all of the above and more.
In 2018, six of the Adirondack Mountains brightest athletes had the honor of representing the United States at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Maddie Phaneuf of Old Forge, Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene, Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid, Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid and Tim Burke of Lake Placid. Saranac Lake's Chris Mazdzer, who previously competed in Vancouver and Sochi, made history as the first ever US competitor to medal in Luge after taking home the silver medal.
Lowell and Tim and all of our Olympic athletes were cheered from the stands by lifelong friend, Executive Director of USA Nordic Bill Demong of Vermontville, who became the first USA Olympic Gold Medalist in Nordic Skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. We were also cheering with him from nearly 7,000 miles away here at High Peaks Resort and Lake House.