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Local athletes react to 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang

July 7, 2011
By PETER CROWLEY and LOU REUTER - Enterprise Staff , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Local Olympians who have competed in Pyeongchang, South Korea had strong and different reactions to the announcement Wednesday that that city will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"That's awesome," ski jumper Peter Frenette of Saranac Lake said when told of the news. The 19-year-old, who hopes the South Korean Olympics will be his third, jumped there two years ago and had a good experience.

"They just did a really nice job," Frenette said. "I really liked the hills in Pyeongchang."

The International Olympic Committee chose Pyeongchang over Munich, Germany and Annecy, France. Frenette has also jumped in Garmisch, Germany, which would have been part of Munich's plan, but was pleased with Pyeongchang.

But not biathletes Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, two-time Olympians and Lake Placid residents who have skied together since they were kids. Their memory of two weeks in Pyeongchang for the 2009 biathlon World Championships is still vivid.

"It was one of the least organized and worst run events I've ever been a part of," Bailey said. "Maybe they've made some progress ... but yeah, it was pretty bad."

Burke, a native of Paul Smiths, had his feelings about Pyeongchang confirmed at a week-long World Cup event.

"Both times were by far the worst international events I've every participated in," Burke said. "Not results-wise - I had good races" - the problems were with the facility and its management. They said poor preparations by staff left snow conditions bad, but worse is the course itself.

"The biathlon venue is literally on a golf course," Burke said. "It's not a normal ski course." He and other biathletes crashed on one downhill section, and he broke the stock of his rifle.

To top it off, they said, the firing range is extraordinarily windy. It's a good spot for electrical generation - the facility is surrounded by windmills - but not shooting, Burke said.

"I would really hope they don't try to have an Olympic event on that venue," Burke said. "They have a lot of time, so hopefully they can use that well."

"If the IOC is willing to stake their reputation on that and have the Olympics there, they must have a reason," Bailey said. "I don't know what that reason is.

"I think Munich would've done a better job. Germany is a biathlon country."

Bailey will be 36 and Burke 35 at the time of the 2018 games.

"That's really not an uncommon age for athletes to keep competing," Burke said, "but I haven't really thought it out that far." He's concentrating on the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia and doesn't want to make a career decision based on where the next Olympics will be.

U.S. men's National Team Ski Jumping coach Casey Colby believes Korea was a good choice, noting that country's jumping facilities are some of the most modern in the world.

"They were built for Korea's 2010 bid, and except for facilities in Russia, they are the newest in the world," Colby said. "Our jumpers have been there a handful of times, and we've always been treated well. Ski jumping is a pretty big deal over there. There are two movies, both which are pretty popular over there, about ski jumping."

Defending Olympic four-man bobsled driver Steve Holcomb does plan on competing in South Korea on a track that hasn't even been built yet. After a weightlifting session at the Olympic Training Center Wednesday, Holcomb expressed his pleasure at the IOC's selection of South Korea.

"I heard a rumor that if South Korea was chosen, they would start building the track the day after," said the veteran Holcomb, whose bobsledding career started in 1998. "I actually planned to continue bobsledding through 2018. What I like is that it's not the same tracks we compete on in Europe year after year.

"Having a new track open in Korea could expand the sport," Holcomb added. "In fact, hosting an Olympics in Korea wouldn't open up just bobsledding, but all winter sports in a part of the world where winter sports aren't as popular. Korea does have a bobsled team, and they are good friends with the American bobsledders. I'm certainly not disappointed with the choice. I think it would be great competing on a new track in a different part of the world."

Another athlete living at the OTC who expressed her pleasure at hearing that Korea will be hosting the 2018 Winter Games is Ashley Caldwell, a freestyle aerials skier who competed in her first Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver as a 16-year-old.

"I'm super excited. I was tweeting about the selection yesterday (Tuesday), and I'm happy it went to South Korea." Caldwell said. "I remember studying about Korea in school, but it's a part of the world I've never visited.

"My plan is to be there, but there's still Sochi ahead," Caldwell added. "It's one step at a time. First I want to prepare for 2014 and then 2018. If my plans work out, I'll be in those Olympics in Korea. I'm looking forward to competing there."

The news had a special ring to Kwang-Rei Baek, a 15-year-old luge prospect from Plattsburgh whose family is of South Korean origin. She's on USA Luge's Junior D Team and hopes to be an Olympian someday, perhaps in her ancestral nation.

"To be an Olympian anywhere would be amazing, but since I am Korean it would have more or a connection for me to compete in Pyeongchang," Baek said in a prepared statement. "While I am there I will hopefully have a chance to explore the culture and see how things are done differently.

"This is my first year with luge and I can only imagine it will be more like the 2011 National Championships, which I raced in earlier this year ... only bigger. When I think about the Olympics, which I do more than I like to admit, I think back to that race."



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