(L-R) Erik Lewish, Caleb Smith, Tim Burke, Andrew Weibrecht, Chris Mazdzer, Tommy Biesemeyer, Lowell Bailey and Clare Egan pose at the Saranac Lake Olympic parade on March 21, 2018 in Saranac Lake, N.Y.
SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — The Olympic spirit is alive and well in this small village nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.
Nearly a month after the 2018 Olympic Winter Games wrapped up in PyeongChang, fans and spectators decked out in Team USA’s red, white and blue lined the streets through the village’s business district to welcome home their local heroes with a parade and other activities on Wednesday. It was the first chance for local fans to get an up-close look at some of the local biathletes, lugers, bobsledders and alpine skiers they last saw on television competing half a world away.
The featured guest was Olympic luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, who grew up less than two miles down the road from where he lit a cauldron at the conclusion of Wednesday's parade. The 29-year-old has lived in Saranac Lake since moving here at a young age and was more than eager to share his medal with anyone who wanted to try it on.
“I am so excited for what Saranac Lake has done to throw this parade,” said Mazdzer, who was also inducted into the Saranac Lake Walk of Fame (alongside 2002 U.S. Olympic ice hockey player Andrea Kilbourne). “A big thank you to the entire village for always supporting me. I know something like this doesn’t take five or 10 years; it takes at least 20 years to develop. Thanks for always sticking with me even when things weren’t great. It’s so powerful knowing you have my back.”
Mazdzer was joined by seven other Olympians, four of whom grew up in the region that is well known for hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Many athletes still live in train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center there.
The list of attendees on Wednesday included four-time Olympic biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, who grew up cross-country skiing and competing at nearby Dewey Mountain.
Alpine skiers Andrew Weibrecht, a two-time Olympic medalist who competed in his third Games in PyeongChang, and Olympic rookie Tommy Biesemeyer joined. Weibrecht was born in Saranac Lake and lives in Lake Placid, while Biesemeyer is from Keene.
Biathlete Clare Egan and bobsledder Nick Cunningham, both of whom live and train in Lake Placid, also joined in Wednesday’s festivities.
“One of the unique special things about this area is the Olympic history and all the athletes training here,” Burke said. “Most kids know someone who either has gone or will go to the Olympics. You start to think that that’s achievable for you as well, and it is. Just having that belief from a young age makes it a lot easier.”
Burke and Bailey, longtime friends and training partners, raced in their final professional event last weekend at the world cup in Oslo, Norway. They have been mainstays of the American biathlon program for more than a decade, which has turned them into superstars in the Saranac Lake-Lake Placid region.
“One thing that I really appreciate about the fans here and the people here is that no matter what the results — whether it was the top of my career or the lowest points of my career — they were always behind me,” said Burke, who grew up in nearby Paul Smiths. “I competed on the world cup for 14 years and am really proud of the things that I was able to accomplish, and now its time to move on to new things.”
Burke and his wife Andrea Henkel, a four-time Olympic biathlon medalist from Germany, recently bought a house in Lake Placid and plan to enjoy retirement in the Adirondacks.
Weibrecht, who won an Olympic bronze medal in super-G in 2010 and a silver medal in 2014 also plans to spend his retirement in Lake Placid while finishing his school at Dartmouth. He has a 2-year-old daughter and another on the way in June.
“Growing up in Lake Placid, you are kind of inundated with the Olympic spirit,” he said. “I think every kid that grows up in Lake Placid is pointed toward the Olympics from a young age. I was lucky enough to have the career that I had and was able to see my goals through.”
(L-R) Chris Mazdzer, Tommy Biesemeyer and Nick Cunningham are celebrated at the Saranac Lake Olympic parade on March 21, 2018 in Saranac, N.Y.
Mazdzer was the man of the hour during Wednesday's parade as he flashed his seemingly permanent smile and joked with anyone within earshot. He has been quite busy since becoming the first American to medal in men’s singles luge, appearing on the “TODAY” show and ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, among other engagements.
“Started with my good friend and coach hugging me and trying to jump over the railing to go see my friends and family and it just escalated from there,” Mazdzer said. “It was way more powerful than I thought. Not only was I emotional, my coaches were emotional, my family was emotional, my teammates were emotional. It was everyone involved. It was this powerful feeling that I never even imagined.”
Mazdzer Wednesday that his final Olympics would be in 2022 in Beijing. Based on Wednesday's outpouring of excitement in Saranac Lake, he will have plenty of support from home.