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ON THE SCENE: They love coming here ... and enjoy the bobsled and skeleton event

March 16, 2012
NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

"They love coming here," said John Morgan about the bobsled teams attending the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships in Lake Placid. "The whole town permeates bobsledding. They cannot walk down the street without feeling that the town is about bobsledding and the other sports like jumping, hockey, skating and skiing. Places like Salt Lake City have no tradition when it comes to bobsledding. Lake Placid is the St. Moritz of North America."

Thinking back, four people introduced me to and got me engaged in bobsledding as a youth growing up in Lake Placid. First and foremost was Stan Benham, our neighbor on Wilmington Road whose son Greg was my classmate and friend. Benham had a wall of trophies in his house that was stunning to behold back when trophies were substantial and works of art. Greg and I were always excited to welcome his dad home from one of his many trips abroad, hear about his exploits and see what he had won. One time he brought back two luge sleds, which resulted in Greg, his brother Reg and I being, I suppose, the first lugers in America and Greg and I constructing the first luge run in North America which ran down the steep drive from our house towards his and veered off on to the Club horse trail, down past Thew's to Power Pond.

The next was the English driver Tony Nash who gave my brother Gerret and I a set of six miniature 2 and 4 man bobsleds made out of lead. We, along with Greg and Mike Rand, would use empty quart-sized soda bottles to create elaborate bobruns out of snow and slush and race the sleds for hours and days on end.

Article Photos

2012 Bobsled Hall of Fame inductees Tony Carlino, Jill Bakken and Brian Shimer

Photo/Naj Wikoff

Stan Benham's compatriot and competitor Fred Fortune came up with the idea and constructed a slew of PeeWee bobsleds that we youth competed in at the bobrun. Greg had the genes and was very competitive, but no less was my mother who came up with the idea of unfolding the stainless steel scrubbies used to clean pots and stretching them over the bottom of our boots so we would have traction on the ice when pushing off at the start giving us a substantial advantage over other competitors.

Last, but far from least, was Bob (Boris) Said, the former Formula One driver who brought many innovations to the sport in terms of the design and financing of the sleds, and recruiting the fastest and toughest athletes he could realizing that the faster the start the greater the chance of winning. Boris seemed to either win or crash, which created opportunities for many to tryout the sport, though riding with him could be a bit like Russian roulette. Still it was he and Nash that gave me my first opportunities to ride in a racing sled, both as last minute fill-ins while their regular riders were either in the hospital or on crutches. These were opportunities not taken lightly as in many ways bobsledding was a far more dangerous sport than today and I was at Zig Zag in 1966 when the two-time Olympic medalist and World Champion Italian Sergio Zardini crashed and died in Zag.

"I have very good memories of Lake Placid," said Hans Hiltebrand, the Swiss bobsledded who competed in 1980 Winter Olympic in Lake Placid and won 2 gold medals at the 1977 and 1987 FIBT World Cup. "The first time I came to Lake Placid was in 1971. It was very special. Every bobsledder knew of the corners Zig Zag and Shady and coming to Lake Placid represented a chance to go overseas. I met very nice people in Lake Placid, people who are still my friends today."

"Lake Placid has a special history in the sport of bobsledding," said Eik Galley of ARD German TV. "Lake Placid is one of the four most special tracks in the world, the others are the tracks at Altenberg, Whistler and Cortina, which I hope that the Italians will rebuild. It is one of the most special tracks, but unfortunately is not operational at this time."

"The Lake Placid track is very fast," said Andre Lange, the German driver who won 4 Olympic and 8 FIBT World Championship gold medals. "The track has a special kind of flair, and it is very challenging, but I like big challenges. I want to drive my sled, and not have the sled drive me."

On Saturday, Eddie Eagan, Stan Benham, Jill Bakken, Brian Shimer and Tony Carlino were inducted into the second United States Bobsled & Skeleton Hall of Fame held at the Lamy Lodge, located at the finish curve of the old '32 bobrun. In her opening remarks, Mary Lou Brown, president of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, announced the formation of the International Sliding Museum, which will include exhibits at the Lodge and other facilities throughout the venue.

"Lake Placid created a home for bobsledding and the other sliding sports a long, long time ago and has helped the sport evolve," said Darrin Steele, CEO of the USBSF. "The new track has helped continue that legacy as will the new International Sliding Sports Museum and the Hall of Fame. We want to use the museum to help capture and share that history."

"What makes Lake Placid special as a center of bobsledding, and the other sliding sports, is the traditions that the fathers of Lake Placid back in the '20s and 30's established and have been passed down from one generation to the next," said inductee and track manager Tony Carlino. "The people of Lake Placid open their doors to the international community. There are no barriers. Our spectators cheer for everybody. Yes they cheer especially hard for their athletes, but they cheer very hard for all the visiting teams as well."

"I never went down a hill without someone behind me," said Olympic Bronze medalist and head coach of the men's bobsled team Brian Shimer. "I look out into this room and see so many people who were behind me, and now that I am on the administrative side, I see the team behind the team."

"This is the one track that everyone can get on," said Canadian bobsled coach Tom de la Hunty. "Tony allows everyone to slide. Tony wants the American athletes to aspire to be the best on a fair and level playing field."

"It's the hospitality and the track that makes Lake Placid special," said Malcolm "Gomer" Lloyd former British head coach and now a coach with the Russian Bobsled Federation.

"There is a lot of heart here," said ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. "There are guys who raced for Germany in the '70s, from Switzerland, from all over who came just to be here. There is so much fellowship here. It's a family."

What has made Placid unique is a tradition of openness and hospitality to the visiting teams, providing a fast, challenging and well-maintained track, and current and former champions giving back by encouraging and helping introduce others to the sport they so love.

 
 

 

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