LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Lake Placid is a special place, and one of the few towns that could boast having a dozen athletes walk down Main Street on a Sunday with their Olympic medals.
The town is no stranger to the Olympic Winter Games, having been a two-time host city, most recently in 1980. Today, the Adirondack town continues to host to major competitions, and dozens of athletes, mostly in bobsled, luge and biathlon, live and train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and surrounding areas.
That Olympic spirit and legacy was on full display Sunday during a parade with hundreds lining the streets and cheering for the local athletes who competed at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, many of whom the spectators know and care for personally.
The parade began at 6 p.m. at the Olympic Center, home of the Herb Brooks Arena where the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey victory against the Soviet Union occurred in 1980, and then continued down Main Street to The Cottage — a restaurant owned by the parents of super-G silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht. At The Cottage, four athletes who earned medals last month at the Sochi Games spoke to a crowd that filled the street.
Olympians at the parade included Lake Placid local Weibrecht, luge bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, bobsled medalists Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton, bobsledder Justin Olsen and seven other luge sliders from the Sochi squad: Summer Britcher, Kate Hansen, Aidan Kelly, Chris Mazdzer, Matt Mortensen, Jayson Terdiman and Tucker West.
Also in the parade was the Lake Placid Middle/High School marching band, local and state politicians, the New York Ski Educational Foundation, the Lake Placid Ski Club and other community winter sports groups.
A handful of local politicians, including state Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec, Town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi and Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, congratulated the Olympians and spoke of the area’s rich winter sports tradition.
“Let’s keep the legacy of Lake Placid alive,” Randall said. “Let’s keep the cauldron burning. Cheers to all of our Olympians who did so well.”
Politi said the community helped make the Olympians’ dream become a reality.
“The opportunities for these great Olympians were made possible by families and friends, coaches and volunteers,” Politi said.
Hometown hero Weibrecht, who got the loudest cheer of the night, said that he was glad that he made everyone proud bringing home the silver medal.
“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,” said Weibrecht, who earned a super-G bronze medal four years ago in Vancouver and then had four surgeries and zero world cup podium finishes in the four years leading up to Sochi. “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.”
In 2010, Weibrecht was the only Olympian to participate in a much smaller parade, which went down the same route. Weibrecht said it was a lot better to have so many other Olympic athletes alongside him during the parade this time around.
Hamlin thanked the crowd, saying Lake Placid was like her second home because she trained there so often. Hamlin hails from Remsen, N.Y., a small town about a three-hour drive from Lake Placid.
“I really appreciate you all coming out,” said Hamlin, who won Team USA’s first Olympic medal in singles luge, a sport that made its Olympic debut in 1964. “I’ve been spending the majority of my years up here since I was 12. It’s a great second home.”
Holcomb and Langton also spoke. As bronze medalists in both the two- and four-man bobsled in Sochi, the duo became the first U.S. bobsledders to medal in the two-man event in 62 years, as well as the first Americans to medal in both events at the same Games in 62 years. Holcomb also broke a 62-year U.S. drought when he piloted the four-man bobsled to gold in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Following the speeches, the Olympians passed the torch down to each other, ending with Weibrecht, who lit an Olympic-style mini-cauldron. Fireworks were later shot from the surface of the frozen Mirror Lake.
Hamlin said she was surprised to see how many people showed up considering how cold it was Sunday.
“It’s freezing out,” Hamlin said. “It’s great for everyone to show up. It's an area with such a great Olympic history.”
Mazdzer said it was an awesome experience seeing his friends on the street that he hasn't seen in weeks.
“It was really cool actually walking down the street and recognizing everyone and them recognizing me,” Madzer 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.’”
“I got home two days ago,” Langton said, after the torch lighting. “Nine weeks on the road is a long time ... to come and bring two medals home is incredible.”
Weibrecht said that there is just something special about his hometown.
“Lake Placid is just an amazing place to be for an athlete,” Weibrecht said.
“I think the Olympic spirit is very alive and strong,” Weibrecht added. “It’s that vibe we have here.”
Weibrecht said now that the Winter Games are over he plans to take things one thing at a time, and that he is looking forward to next season.
Dillon Smith, 16, an alpine skier from Northwood School, took photos with Weibrecht after the cauldron lighting.
“It’s really impressive and an inspiration,” Smith said. “If he can do it with enough motivation and determination so can I.”
Matthew Turner is a reporter for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Lake Placid, N.Y. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.