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Locals working behind the scenes at Vancouver Olympics

February 24, 2010
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Sr. Staff Writer

While North Country athletes competing at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver have been grabbing the headlines, and rightfully so, another group of local residents have quietly been making a contribution to the games.

More than a dozen people from the Tri-Lakes area have been working at the Olympics, helping to run bobsled, luge and skeleton races, setting up interviews and photo shoots for athletes, organizing sponsor events and taking on a host of other behind-the-scenes roles.

They've been at the center of some of the high and low points of these games - from the historic medal streak of the U.S. alpine skiing team to the tragic death of a luge athlete just as the games were getting started.

"It's been a fantastic games," said Doug Haney of Saranac Lake, alpine press officer for the U.S. Ski Team. "I don't think anyone going into these Olympics thought we would have captured eight medals in alpine skiing."

Haney spoke with the Enterprise on Monday, shortly after attending a Sports Illustrated photo shoot with Olympic medalists Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Lake Placid native Andrew Weibrecht. The four are on the cover of this week's edition of SI.

Haney said he's been putting in 18-hour days trying to connect the ski team's athletes with the hundreds of national and international journalists covering the games. He said he's never seen this level of interest in alpine skiing.

"It's thrilling and rewarding to see our athletes on front pages of newspapers across the country, leading primetime coverage on U.S. television and dominating online Web sites, in terms of what they've done here and what they've accomplished," he said. "It's a pretty inspiring story for sure."

The experience for another group of locals working in Vancouver has been very different. Lake Placid-based USA Luge and several other local residents connected to the sliding sports of bobsled, luge and skeleton have been dealing with the aftermath of the tragic death of a Georgian luge athlete just hours before the opening ceremonies.

Three-time Olympian Gordy Sheer, director of marketing and sponsorship for USA Luge, entertained groups of sponsors during his time in Vancouver. With the luge events now complete, Sheer has returned home to Lake Placid.

"It was certainly a different experience," he said. "Things got off to a rough start with the death of a luge athlete. It was very hard, very upsetting for everyone involved. But our athletes were there to compete and eventually the competitions did get under way, and at that point we were focused on our respective jobs."

While no U.S. luge athletes reached the medal podium, Sheer said the 13th place finish of Saranac Lake's Chris Mazdzer, in his first Olympics, and Lake Placid luger Mark Grimmette carrying the U.S. flag during the opening ceremonies were two big highlights.

USA Luge spokesman Sandy Caligiore, another Lake Placid resident, has been coordinating press and media availability for athletes at the Whistler Sliding Centre and said things changed after the fatal accident.

"Every conceivable news organization and alleged news organization was knocking on our door and looking for comments and commentary," he said. "I was just trying to make sure we spoke appropriately, and we didn't give the impression the issue was one of USA Luge's making."

The accident also brought heightened attention to the bobsled and skeleton competitions that followed luge, according to Don Krone of Lake Placid, communications director for the FIBT, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

"It certainly had an impact because people were taking a very careful look at how the FIBT was managing its races, managing the track, and a whole multitude of things that occur when you're under close scrutiny," he said. "Here, every time there's a minute amount of work on the track, or a change in training or anything at all, it becomes totally amplified through the media."

For a time, Krone said the intense scrutiny became a distraction, although he said the media's attention has finally started to turn back to the athletes and the remaining events at the track.

The Whistler Sliding Centre has been home to the biggest contingent of locals working at the Vancouver Games. The list also includes Tony Carlino, manager of the Olympic Sports Complex and Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid, who is a member of the men's bobsled jury and is involved in the operation of the Whistler track. Another Olympic Regional Development Authority employee, Katie Million, has been working communication and logistics at the venue.

While much of that work has happened behind the scenes, that hasn't been the case for one local resident. Saranac Lake's John Morgan has been on TV just about every night working as a bobsled analyst for NBC.

This is the ninth straight Winter Olympics for Morgan, who said he learned a lot about broadcasting from Art Devlin, an Olympic ski jumper and long-time color commentator for ABC sports.

"I come from the Art Devlin school of broadcasting, which is sound excited and sound like you know what you're talking about 'cause no one else does," Morgan said Tuesday during a break in the action at the track. "He told me that a long time ago and it stayed in my mind forever."

Morgan praised the organizers of the Vancouver games for their hard work and hospitality, which he compared to Lake Placid during the 1980 Winter Olympics.

"The logistics, the ambiance, the people - it's just unbelievable here," Morgan said. "This is the way all Winter Olympics should be. This is the modern-day Lake Placid."

Caligiore, who's working his fifth Olympics, said the efforts of the many volunteers at the games is the untold story of the Vancouver Olympics, and the one he'll remember the most.

"The Olympics, for me, is less about the competition, but more about the people you meet and the folks that make the games tick," he said. "The people have been so hospitable and so friendly that they've made it a pleasure to be here."

Haney agreed.

"The people involved in making it happen have every bit of the Olympic spirit as the athletes who participate," he said. "It's really amazing to see."



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