The scaled-down luge run was just one of the activities at the first-ever Olympic Oval Youth Day, a community event geared toward exposing children to Winter Olympic sports.
A large crowd filled the Oval as groups of kids flocked from one attraction to the next with parents in tow. Some glided around the track on ice skates while others tried out the winter sport of curling, which was a big hit.
“This is a fantastic event,” said Jon Lundin, communications manager of the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). “It says a lot about the heritage of this town, and it’s great to see all the kids out here getting some exposure to different sports.”
Another popular attraction was a small ski jump, built at the bottom of a 12-foot-high take-off ramp. Young skiers could get a feel for being airborne — if only for just a second — while practicing the traditional ski jumpers form. Dave McCahill, assistant ski jumping coach at the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF), looked on and gave demonstrations.
“This is a pretty cool thing,” McCahill said. “We love getting anyone who hasn’t tried the sport onto a set of skis.”
Across the oval a small crowd gathered next to the hockey rink as an honorary guest of Olympic Oval Youth Day, William “Buzz” Schneider — who played for the gold medal winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team — met parents and children, signing autographs and shaking hands with star-struck hockey dads. Schneider was in town all weekend to enjoy the Olympic festivities.
Along with Schneider the Olympic Oval Youth Day invited Bev Johnson, Suzy Mink and Dot Helling to attend the event. The three women were on the 1980 Olympic torch relay team that carried the flaming Olympic torch for about 900 miles from Washington D.C. to Lake Placid.
“It was just an incredible experience,” Suzy Mink said. “We basically became family while we were carrying the torch and we have all stayed very close over the years.”
Mink, Johnson and Helling were hard to miss at the Olympic Oval Youth Day. They all wore the exact outfits they had on during the torch relay in 1980 — bright yellow jumpsuits that hadn’t faded a bit.
Throughout the day, local musician Dave Hall stood on a portable stage in front of the crowd, strumming on an old acoustic guitar and belting out classic tunes from the 60s. Several people gathered around a smoldering fire pit near the stage as the crowd slowly began making its way toward the Horseshow Grounds for the lighting of the Olympic torch.
Come back for more on Feb. 27
The Olympic Oval Youth day was thought up by Joe Lamb, who orchestrated the entire event.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the big turnout,” Lamb said. “I think we managed to create a really exciting day.”
The event was only the first of two youth day celebrations. On Feb. 27 the Olympic Oval will host another outdoor community day to close out the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
“I’m hoping we have an even better turn-out next time,” Lamb said. “We need the whole community to come out. That’s what this is all about.”
The next Olympic Oval Youth day will include most of the same activities with slight additions and improvements.
“This time I’m bringing in a professional to help with the luge track,” Lamb said. “We’re going to get it just right.”
Larry Stone, a Wilmington based singer-songwriter and former ski jumping coach, will hit the stage during the next round of family fun and the event will again be entirely free to the public.
“We live in an Olympic community, and this is a great way to get together and celebrate,” Lamb said. “I want people to show up in droves.”
Ryan and Kylie Letham hold an Olympic torch during celebrations at Olympic Oval Youth Day.
Photos/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News