LAKE PLACID - Hundreds of young athletes gathered on the ice, and even more parents filled the stands Thursday night inside the Olympic Center for the opening ceremony of the Empire State Winter Games.
It is the 34th year the games were held in Lake Placid, and this time they promised to be extra-special, setting a record with 1,400 athletes participating.
Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall thanked the games' private sponsors, Hannaford being the most prominent, along with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority for their roles in helping the games take place.
Theatrical skate team Genesee Expressions shows off on the Lake Placid Olympic Center ice after the opening ceremony ended Thursday night. The skaters were chaperoned by Jim Christian of Rochester. His daughter Nicole, second on the left, is wearing the hat.
(Enterprise photo — Matt Turner)
"The legacy of these winter games follows on the legacy of the 1980 (Olympic) Winter Games," Randall said. "Who will ever forget those?"
Randall wished both the young athletes and U.S. Olympians good luck in their competitions.
"Today the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are underway in Sochi, Russia, where our U.S. Olympians are competing against their peers from around the world," he said. "Likewise I wish each of you competing in these games, good luck in the pursuit of your hopes and dreams."
The keynote speech was made by alpine skier Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene. Biesemeyer spoke in place of former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter, a part-time Lake Placid resident, who could not attend.
"My experiences with skiing have defined who I am today," he said. "The most important attribute any athlete can have is to be your best."
Biesemeyer was an Olympic hopeful until he ruptured a ligament in his knee prior to the Sochi Olympics. He reminded the young athletes to keep a plan B in case their dreams don't pan out. He said he is now enrolled in college and working hard to get his knee in shape to compete in future Olympics.
"There is no question, for most of the world, the Winter Olympics are a lot more glamorous than the Empire State Games," he said. "But for me, here tonight, these events are a lot more important than Sochi.
"For all of you competing this weekend, don't for one second think what you're doing is somehow less than what is happening in Russia. These games, in some way, are more than the Olympics because they represent the true meaning of sport."
This year Tupper Lake joined the coalition of local communities that will conduct the winter games. Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun was impressed by the athletes standing in front of him Thursday night, saying he thought some of them would be future Olympians. He made a special promise to the girls hockey players who will compete in Tupper Lake.
"For all of the skaters on the ladies team, this red jacket is going to be on all weekend over there (in Tupper Lake)," he said. "If you have any problems, you come see the mayor and I'll take care of it."
Maroun mentioned Olympic ski jumper Peter Frenette, whose father grew up in Tupper Lake. One of Frenette's skis was broken when he arrived last week for training in Whistler, Canada.
"So we are sending him new skis from Tupper Lake on United Airlines." Maroun said.
State Sen. Betty Little, a Queensbury Republican who represents northeastern New York, was also in attendance at the ceremony.
"I love being at these games because Empire State Winter Games are so much fun," Little said. "We're not Sochi, but we are in the second-best place: Lake Placid, New York."
Most of the sporting events will take place today and Saturday. This afternoon, skiers will take to Whiteface Mountain for super-G races, and women's hockey will be played on the Tupper Lake Civic Center. The games end Sunday night.