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UP CLOSE: Olympic Sports Complex manager retiring soon

February 22, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

It was a sunny, clear day at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Tony Carlino stood at the top. From up there, you can see almost everything - the Olympic ski jumps, village of Lake Placid, Cascade Mountain. Carlino may have a room with a computer and desk at the bottom of the mountain, but the top is what he likes to call his office.

He's going to miss it after next week, he said.

After what he calls 19 of the best years of his life, Carlino will step down as manager of the Olympic Sports Complex, the sliding venue operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.

Article Photos

Olympic Sports Complex Manager Tony Carlino poses at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Carlino is from Brant Lake, a hamlet in the Warren County town Horicon in the southeastern part of the Adirondack Park. He attended graduate school at SUNY Albany then later worked for the state Legislature in his 20s. But after a long weekend trip to Lake Placid in 1973, he didn't want to leave.

"I saw the bobsledding, and the (International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation) World Championships was going on at the time, and in a sense, I never went home," he said.

Carlino soon spoke with his boss and said, "I have to quit."

"When are you leaving?" his boss asked.

"Right now," he replied.

"When you're 20-something years old, sometimes you've got to just pack up your Mustang with everything you own and head north."

Carlino was named to the U.S. national bobsled team in 1976 and raced with them for 15 years. He said being a slider back then is much different than it is now.

"We were kind of a nomadic group," he said. "We found our own sponsors. We formed our own clubs. We were basically on our own. Compared to the (Olympic) Training Center today and the (United States Olympic Committee's) involvement with the athletes, it was a whole different world. It started to evolve toward the end of my career, and thankfully the OTC opened up, and the athletes found other ways to exist other than having to be a dishwasher."

Carlino said he and his fellow bobsledders would do anything and work any job to fund their sport - mopping floors, working in kitchens, building construction in the summertime, and hosting yard sales and 50-50 raffles.

"When the winter came, hopefully, we had saved up enough so we could get through the season," he said.

As a sledder, Carlino held every position on the sleigh. First, he was side pusher, the muscle and speed necessary for a good start. Then he became the brakeman, the one who stops the sled after it crosses the finish line. And finally, he became the pilot, the one who steers the metal vehicle barreling down slick ice in excess of 80 mph.

Carlino was a medal winner in many national events, including North American Championships and Amateur Athletic Union Championships. He was also named an AAU All American several times and was the recipient of the 1981 Rookie Driver of the Year award. He missed the "golden ring" at the Olympics a few times because of injury or miscalculations in driving. Carlino was supposed to compete in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, but he hurt his shoulder in a practice run a few days before the games.

In those days, bobsled tracks were built with natural ice and followed the contours of the mountain. Carlino said tacks in Lake Placid, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, and St. Moritz, Switzerland, had portions that went straight downhill.

"It was more devil-may-care," he said. "but, certainly, we thought of ourselves as pretty good athletes for our day.

"I hate to say it, but it seemed like it was more swashbuckling and had more bravado. All those different verbs and adjectives that describe where our mentality was in those times. It wasn't just an athletic event. It was overcoming huge challenges of the tracks."

After his athletic career, Carlino served as a jury member and technical delegate with the IBSF. He also helped constructed many Olympic sliding facilities such as those in Torino, Italy (2006), and Sochi, Russia (2014). He'll also help in the construction of the new track for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.

The tracks from Carlino's sledding days were more subject to the elements. The lack of roofs and refrigeration made the ice vulnerable. A thaw could change the entire dynamic of a race. Carlino said one of the biggest innovations he oversaw at the complex was covering the track.

"Roofs make it virtually bulletproof to rain, snow and wind," he said. "We're able to open Oct. 1 and close in the last week of April. In my time, they opened Dec. 1, and if we got through February we were pretty lucky."

Recently, the city of Calgary, Alberta, announced it will decommission its bobsled track, which was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Carlino said it's a shame to see something like that happen, and he's glad to be part of an organization such as ORDA.

"New York state had the foresight to form the Olympic Authority in 1982 to pick up, not the pieces, but to pick up the debt from the 1980 games, which doesn't seem like much now but it was necessary," he said. "ORDA has made it possible for all the venues in Lake Placid to move forward and continue. It's really sad to see tracks like Li Plagne, (France) and of course Italy, Japan, Korea, and now what's happening in Calgary. It's not good for winter sport, but it takes commitment and this community has a commitment."

As to why he's retiring, Carlino said it was somewhat of a reaction to the recent death of co-worker Denny Allen, who retired as general manager of the Olympic Center in April 2018 after working for ORDA since 1982. Allen died Feb. 1 at the age of 64.

Carlino got choked up. He didn't shed a tear, but you could hear distress in his voice. He took a moment to collect himself.

"I'm going to be 70 in July," he said. "When you think about what happened to our dear friend Denny Allen - (nine) months after retiring, it kind of made me see the light. There has to be a life after work. There has to be more for me in the future than getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning and being available 24 hours a day. I'll certainly spend time with my wife and see what it's like not to be standing on the ice in December, January, February. I have friends who I went to school with that are no longer with us. We're at that age now, not that we're on borrowed time, but I just want to have taken advantage of all those years of hard work."

Carlino said he couldn't have accomplished all those years of hard work without his teammates and co-workers. He appreciates ORDA's vibrancy when it comes to group projects and getting work done collectively.

"I could write a 500-page novel on the experiences that I've had here," he said. But just knowing that we've come from nearly losing our international accreditation to one of the premier sites in the world is prideful."

He started to choke up again.

"Thank God for our crew," he said, "not only here but at the jumps and the (Olympic Cross-Country and Biathlon Center). As I said, the crew are the heart and soul of ORDA. ORDA goes by the sake of the wonderful people we have working for us. So that's something that I always carry with me."

Carlino - who has become known as the "bobfather" at Mount Van Hoevenberg - will work his final day on Thursday, Feb. 28.



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