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Rings and national flags in the foreground, the Olympic flame and the snowcapped mountains behind. Photo: © Nancie Battaglia
Rings and national flags in the foreground, the Olympic flame and the snowcapped mountains behind. Photo: Nancie Battaglia

Sochi: Historic victory and disappointment yesterday, hockey today

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The Sochi Olympics are well underway in Russia. A half-dozen North Country athletes have already competed. Brian Mann talks with Martha Foley about how the "home team" fared in competition yesterday and so far this morning.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Brian Mann talked with Martha Foley talked this morning about the latest from Sochi, just a few minutes after Vermontville Nordic Combined racer Bill Demong's first race.

Brian Mann: Yeah, tough start for Bill Demong in this race. He has a lot more racing to do in Sochi, but in this opening event he jumped in a way, early, early this morning our time, that left him 1:30 down. The way Nordic combined works is they do long distance ski jumping and how well they perform there determines their start time in the cross country course. and then just moments ago, Bill Demong is usually able to make up a lot of time on the cross country course, but today he actually faded dropping back and finishing 1:49 behind the top winners - a German skier taking gold and a Japanese skier taking silver.

Again, Bill Demong from Vermontville well out of the running today. And another note, I'm not sure what this means exactly, but Todd Lodwick, another Nordic combined skier who a lot of North county ski fans follow, he was the flag bearer in the opening ceremonies for the U.S.,  he didn't start the ski race today. He's one of the strongest U.S. Nordic combined skiers. We'll have to sort out what that means that he wasn't in the running today. 

MF: And there's a lot more racing to go for these guys?

BPM: Absolutely, and in fact four years ago when Bill Demong won his gold medal in a historic first for the U.S., and also a silver medal, those were in events that came later on in the Olympic competition. And so, Bill Demong has shown that he can take a loss like this and really bounce back. 

MF: Ok, and I'm looking at a great shot from Nancie Battaglia at our Sochi page at NCPR.org of the fans who’ve gathered to watch the Nordic combined race this morning. Helen Demong is there, and Jenny Frenette, and Peter Frenette Sr., and that’s from Nancie Battaglia.

So, yesterday, North Country luge sledder Erin Hamlin from Remsen in Oneida county made Olympic history, capturing the first-ever medal for an American in that sport. 

Here she is speaking with reporters right after her bronze-medal victory.

"Well I feel like I’m really, hopefully, paving the way for future generations of female lugers in the U.S., so I’m stoked. And this is…I can’t even…who knew?"

MF: It was great to watch her do that. Erin Hamlin is a veteran sled racer, she's 27 years old and she won the world championship in Lake Placid a few years ago.  Brian, why was this such a big deal?

BPM: Well you know, just getting to that podium is a hurdle American athletes struggle to get over. Just as Bill Demong had to shatter that glass ceiling in Nordic combined four years ago, some U.S. sledder had to find a way to get to that podium in an Olympic games. That means finding a way to be fast, but also disciplined enough to handle this kind of pressure, and Erin Hamlin did it yesterday.

MF: It was amazing that she was at the top of her game over the two days. We saw the first two races, really blistering runs on Monday, second and third, and then she had to wait overnight to face the next day’s competition. She looked pretty cool and collected, but that’s a lot of pressure.

BPM: And remember Martha, this is sport where wins and losses are measured in hundredths of a second. And so after her bronze medal win, Erin was asked how she slept between those two days of racing. Here’s what she said:

"By the time I got home it was probably 11 o’clock. I scarfed some food and made sure my sled was all set to get ready to work on in the morning. I just passed out. It was pretty nice. It was one of my best nights of sleep ever or this week. So it was good…good timing."

MF: So there’s one cure for sleeplessness – go to bed with a historic Olympic medal hanging in the balance. We’ve been hearing through the week that Erin has such a huge support crew of friends and family from Remsen that were actually there in Sochi.

BPM: Yeah, she talked about this yesterday, how important that support has been for her especially because she had a very disappointing Olympics four years ago in Vancouver. These folks kept her going.

"It’s awesome. You know, they’ve been the best support system of my entire career. They’ve trucked to foreign countries for every Olympics. They came all the way to Russia, and had a pretty interesting travel day here. So, being able to have them here is amazing and I’m so excited."

Our Sochi correspondent, Nancie Battaglia, was actually right there at the finish line when Erin won that bronze medal. Here’s how Nancie described the scene.

"There was a lot of noise and screaming and jumping and hugging. Everyone was pretty happy, and Erin looked great. She handled it pretty well, and everyone’s proud of her."

MF: There was a ruckus wild celebration back in Remsen as well. About half the town, it looked like, huddled around televisions streaming the online feed - a great day for all of them…After Erin’s win, she received tweets of congratulations from Governor Cuomo and North Country Senator Joe Griffo. Brian, before we let you go, what is up next for the North Country?

BPM: These are turning out to be really fun Olympics in Sochi. One thing that’s cool is that our athletes are spread out so there’s something local for us to follow just about every day. You know, we just heard up to the minute results from Bill Demong’s first Nordic race. Also today, some big men’s and women’s hockey. We have a hockey player from Ogdensburg suiting up for the men’s hockey team. The U.S. and Canada matchup on the women’s side is something that a lot of people will be following today.  And tomorrow, we’ll see Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey racing biathlon. They’re going to try to bounce back. We’ll get our first look at downhill skiing with Andrew Weibrecht from Lake Placid. And also, luge racer Chris Mazder from Saranac Lake will get out on the sled track. So, much more still to come. 

Find all of NCPR's reporting on the North Country in Sochi here, and find even more on Twitter at #NCPROlympics.

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