The Olympic Regional Development Authority was just getting started when he came aboard.
Now, 36 years later, ORDA Director of Events Jeff Potter is retiring.
He joined the fledgling organization in the third year after it was created to market and manage facilities developed to host the 1980 Winter Olympics. The village, town and state did not want to squander the investment made to host the games, and it was essential to create an organization capable of expanding on that legacy.
Potter, just out of college, was in the first wave of young staffers brought in to make that happen.
Ned Harkness was initially in charge of that effort. Even now, you can still start a heated discussion in some quarters of Lake Placid about Harkness and what he did as the first president of ORDA. He was a tough, my-way-or-the-highway executive who knew how to love his friends and get even with those who weren’t. But before he left under a series of misconduct accusations in 1993, he created an organization that kept the village in the international sports spotlight — and his signature achievement, construction of the Athletes Training Center, still keeps Lake Placid a welcoming place to athletes from around the world.
Harkness died in 2008, 15 years after leaving ORDA, but there was staff he recruited during his tenure that remained. Potter is the last of them.
“To me, he was the right guy for the time,” recalled Potter, speaking about Harkness recently. “He demanded excellence and loyalty. In return, he respected you. He was very hands-on. You needed to be prepared.”
STARTED AS AN INTERN
Potter grew up in Hudson Falls. His dad knew Harkness from the days when he developed the Adirondack Red Wings hockey team and the Glens Falls Civic Center. Harkness had recently moved to the ORDA job, and Potter was looking for an internship to complete his degree in sports management at SUNY Cortland. It was a match.
Initially, he was an assistant to former Gazette sports writer Don Krone, who had been recruited by Harkness to head up the ORDA communications effort. He joined a generation of young Lake Placid-based staffers such as Ted Blazer, Jeff Byrne, Chris Sullivan, Jim Goff, the late Denny Allen and Jay Rand, who have led the authority over the years. Current ORDA President Mike Pratt is a part of that generation, although he spent most of his career in management at Gore Mountain in North Creek.
The majority of Potter’s years were spent working on corporate sponsorships, helping arrange the financial backing that made activities happen beyond what New York State could provide. Over the years, he estimates he has been involved with at least 500 national and international competitions. Three years ago, he shifted to become director of events for ORDA.
“When it comes to competitions, my operation is responsible for everything outside of the field of play,” he said. “We have relationships with sports federations around the world to make sure that scheduled events take place as planned. We handle lodging, meals, transportation, hospitality for as many as 25 world events, and at least that many local and regional events in a year.”
But this hasn’t been one of those years, Potter acknowledges.
“Just about everything was canceled, or moved elsewhere. The World Bobsled and Skeleton championships were supposed to be held in January. They were switched to Europe. The World Synchronized Skating Championships were canceled. So was the ECAC Hockey championships. A World Cup Luge event was also moved,” Potter said. “We ended up with only two events this winter. One, the North American Cup bobsled race in January, went off without a hitch. The other, the women’s pro hockey championships, were called off right as they were set to begin. It has been very frustrating.”
STAYING IN LAKE PLACID
While he is retiring from ORDA, Potter has no plans to leave Lake Placid where he knows there will be continuing demand for experience and skills with international competitions.
“The World University Games in January 2023 will be the biggest sports event in Lake Placid since the 1980 Olympics,” he said. “There will be test events in all those sports next year. And we know the World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships will be back in 2025. There will be lots of activity, and I hope I can be involved.”
One thing Potter points to as key to his years with ORDA is its standing as a “legacy organization.”
He said: “We carry on the tradition of the Olympics in Lake Placid. We have more than 1,000 people locally who make this happen, volunteers who help out regularly. Without that to build on, we could never do what we do.”
His favorite memory?
“I find it amazing to think that people I met more than three decades ago as young athletes I talk to now as leaders in international sports,” Potter said.
While Harkness has not been involved with ORDA in nearly three decades, Potter’s retirement in April finally marks the end of the Harkness era official. Potter will no doubt be involved with whatever comes next in Lake Placid; he is too much of a resource to waste. He is also a great source of knowledge of what it has been like to be on the ground for the development of the Olympic legacy and history since the 1980 Winter Games.
BLOOD AN ACADEMIC ALL AMERICAN
It has been a rough year for college sports competitors.
But despite seeing her competition season canceled, Bates College senior Eliza Blood, a top Nordic racer for Queensbury High School just a few years ago, has earned academic All-American honors in cross country skiing.
Those who qualify carry a cumulative academic average of 3.5 or better.
QUINTUPLE-TWISTING TRIPLE SOMERSAULT
It has not been a banner year for New Yorkers on the U.S. Ski Team. Only one made it to the international stage.
But what a way to do it. Chris Lillis, a 22-year-old from Rochester, won a silver medal in the aerial event in the recent Freestyle World Championships with a performance that included a quintuple-twisting triple somersault, the first landed by an American in competition since 2010. One jump, three somersaults with five twists in mid-air — don’t try this in your backyard.
BIESEMEYER TO LEAD WORLD CUP DREAMS FOUNDATION
Recently retired World Cup ski racer Tommy Biesemeyer from Keene has been named Executive Director of the World Cup Dreams Foundation, an organization that helps talented ski racers with the resources necessary to compete at the highest level.
Biesemeyer spent 12 years on the U.S. Ski Team and twice relied on the foundation for support.
The foundation was founded in 2005 and has raised over $1 million to assist athletes with the cost of competing.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].
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