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Photo: © Nancie Battaglia
Photo: Nancie Battaglia

Sochi recap: some big wins, some losses, some bittersweet moments

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The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have given us a dramatic couple of weeks in Russia, for the US, for our neighbors in Canada, and certainly for athletes here in the North Country.

There is more action to come today and over the weekend. Brian Mann has been our Olympics editor, reporting regularly for us and NPR. He checks in with Martha Foley about what's come and what's still coming in Sochi.

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Future Olympians Lowell Bailey, Bill Demong, and Tim Burke as kids. Photo provided by the Demong family

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Martha Foley: Let's point back to some of the highlights for North Country athletes. The first big moment was Erin Hamlin's bronze medal win.

Brian Mann: What a cool story that was. Erin Hamlin, the luge sledder from Remsen, who spends a lot of each year in Lake Placid. She's a veteran, she's won a lot on the world cup stage, and in Sochi she captured the first individual Olympic luge medal ever won by an American athlete. Here she is talking with reporters.

"I feel like I'm really hopefully paving the way for future generations of female lugers in the US. So I'm stoked,and I can't even…who knew?"

After triumph in Sochi, where will Andrew Weibrecht's journey take him next?  Photo:  © Nancie Battaglia
After triumph in Sochi, where will Andrew Weibrecht's journey take him next? Photo: Nancie Battaglia
MF: I said that had to be the biggest moment for North Country athletes, but I have to say, Andrew Weibrecht's silver medal win in alpine Super-G, that was a huge breakout moment for him, personally and for the North Country, and this took almost everybody by surprise.

BPM: Yeah, it shocked me for sure. Andrew grew up in Lake Placid, he's really a hometown favorite, so this is a huge deal for our Olympic village. Andrew won bronze four years ago in Vancouver, but really struggled over the last four years. I talked to his dad who said this was just an awful time for his son leading up to Sochi. Andrew was sick, he suffered injuries. But he trained hard and really focused on this one race and pulled off a gorgeous, daring run.

"This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing I've ever had, all the issues and trouble I've had, and to come and have a really strong result like this, just kind of dealing through all the hard times, that's all worth it, it all makes sense."

Future Olympians Lowell Bailey, Bill Demong, and Tim Burke as kids. Photo provided by the Demong family
Future Olympians Lowell Bailey, Bill Demong, and Tim Burke as kids. Photo provided by the Demong family
: It wasn't all great times. One of the other dramas we've followed closely in Sochi was the struggle, the frustration, of these three veteran Olympians, Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Bill Demong. We sort of lump them together because they all grew up in the Tri-Lakes area, skiing and competing together. All three have had a tough time.

BPM: It has been tough. And these guys are at a point in their lives where they'll have to think about what comes next: Will they keep trying to earn a living on the world cup circuit in Europe, will they try to hold on for another Olympics…

Bill Demong from Vermontville won gold and silver four years ago in Vancouver,couldn't regain the platform this time. He spoke yesterday with reporters in Sochi about his future.

"I would seriously doubt that I'll be here in four years…on skis, but I'm sure I'll stay in volved in the sport and I may do some racing next year, so. I'm more excited, I feel like I owe it to the younger guys to see what they need, to usher in the next group."

MF: In terms of the North Country, we had this little bubble of top-tier athletes come through, really serious Olympians. Are there more kids in the pipeline?

BPM: I think that's a good question. We do have some younger athletes in Sochi from the North Country: Peter Frenette the ski jumper from Saranac Lake is just 21 years old. Chris Mazdzer the sledder is 25. Erin Hamlin is 27.

But I think this was sort of an extraordinary moment with Tim, Lowell, Bill and also Annelies Cook, the woman biathlete from Saranac Lake. That's four Olympians who really grew up together. That kind of thing is rare.

MF: The Olympics are about competition, but they're also a big party, a big celebration. But there was a lot of trepidation about the trip to Russia. What are we hearing from the families who went to Sochi? 

BPM: From what I'm hearing, they've had a blast. And you have to remember, win or lose, making the Olympics is a huge honor and this is a lifetime experience for these families. Helen Demong, Bill Demong's mom, spoke about this part of the Olympics yesterday.

"I feel like, what a journey I have gone through, from 1998 when he was a 17-year-old first-time Olympian in Nagano, Japan, to a five-time Olympian in 2014, I have seen the world following my son's sport Nordic Combined."

MF: So Brian, what do you think about the way that we reporters covered, especially in the run-up to Sochi. There was a lot of hand-wringing about unfinished venues, bad hotels, corruption. Was that overblown, or over-hyped?

BPM: In a way I think so, but I think there's a distinction here. All the muttering about Sochi and how these Olympics would come off, that turned out to be mostly hokum. By all accounts, Russia has done a great job with everything from transportation to security. Despite the sometimes crummy weather, the events came together and it's all sort of worked.

But the political stuff, the anti-gay posture of Vladimir Putin's regime, the crackdowns on free speech and protest, Russia's involvement in the unrest in Ukraine. I think that's all part of what's played out during these Olympics, and I think in some ways that's been underreported and so there's sort of two parts to the story of how Russia looked during these games.

MF: Okay, as we speak there are still lots of events to come this weekend. Give us a quick preview.

BPM: Coming up today we'll have women's biathlon relay. Saranac Laker Annelies Cook will compete one more time in that race. Also over the weekend we'll have four-man bobsled races, that's a huge event, a big crowd-pleaser — those will include Justin Olsen, who lives and trains a lot of the year in Lake Placid, he's a guy we've profiled.

And then of course, the men's hockey final will be on Sunday, it'll be hard to top the women's gold medal contest, but that's still to come and it'll be followed by the closing ceremonies.

MF: Not to mention the hockey semi-final, which may turn out to be the real marquee event here in hockey country, the US versus Canada today at noon.

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