Once asked why basketball had been his sport of choice, former Boston Celtics star Tommy Heinsohn answered, “Because it is played indoors.”
I wonder what Section II Alpine and Nordic skiers would say if such a choice existed in their sport?
Like last year, iffy weather and a lack of snow hampered the training and competition schedules this winter, especially for the cross country racers. But the calendar marches on, and the sectional championships are set for next week: Tuesday for the Alpine racers at Gore Mountain and Wednesday for Nordic competition at Lapland Lake.
For Bob Underwood, who is the competition coordinator for skiing in Section II, sometimes it must seem like a pencil with eraser is the most important piece of gear he owns. There has been lots of cancellations and rescheduling of activity this winter.
“We’re a pretty industrious group.” said the veteran Queensbury High School coach when asked about recent scheduling challenges.
Last year was a banner season for Section II, winning the state championship in Alpine and finishing second in Nordic. The state events this year Feb 25-26 at Bristol Mountain, near Rochester. The athletes who will represent Section II in Alpine and Nordic will be chosen next week.
In Alpine, the boys’ field is without a clear favorite this year. Mike Merecki and PJ Kotecki. both from CBA, have been strong all season, but others like Ned Feist and Philip Weeber of Niskayuna, Alex Hohman of Queensbury, Pat Burton of Glens Falls, Kieran Mottau of Saratoga Springs and Theo Korenowski of Ballston Spa have turned in strong results recently. CBA, Niskayuna, Queensbury and Shenendehowa are expected to battle it out for the team title.
On the girl’s side, Julia Smith and Kristin Kruk of Shenendehowa; Julia Sante, Katie Zilka and Olivia Paolano of Queensbury; and Alex MacAffer of Albany Academy have been top contenders this season. Demi Feder, the defending sectional and state champion from Ballston Spa, did not compete this season due to injury.
In the team competition, Queensbury, Shenendehowa, and Saratoga are the favorites.
The competition will be in both slalom and giant slalom, and those named to the sectional team will compete in both at the state championships.
In boys’ Nordic, Saratoga senior Brian Halligan, who just returned from the World Junior Biathlon Championships, is the strong favorite to win individual honors. Expected to be right there at the finish is longtime friend and rival Austin Huneck of Shenendehowa, who edged Halligan for the sectional title last year. Others expected to contend are Ben Anderson and Liam Mulshine of Queensbury, Seth Mares of Saratoga and Tom McClellan of Mayfield. The team title is expected to be a close competition between Saratoga, Shenendehowa, Queensbury and Scotia-Glenville.
Among the girls, Lake George senior Emma Underwood is the favorite with Megan Kellogg of Queensbury; the Duclos twins, Sarah and Amy, of Shenendehowa; Becca Kraines of Scotia-Glenville; and Lidija Nikollaj of Mayfield expected to contend. Scotia Glenville, Queensbury and Shenendehowa are favored in the team scoring.
The Nordic discipline this year is classic style. The boys’ race will be 10k. The girls’ competition is set for 7.5k.
MISSING IN ACTION?
This is a very busy weekend for winter sports in Lake Placid with the 31st annual Empire State Games being held, along with the first World Cup luge event at Mt. VanHoevenberg in four years. You would expect the Lake Placid Regional Winter Sports Commission would be going at full speed these days. But it isn’t. In fact, it is nowhere to be seen.
Established in 2006 in the final days of the administration of George Pataki, the commission is led by executive director David Catalfamo, a press official under the former governor. Catalfamo heads up a public relations firm in Albany these days. The chairman of the committee is Lake Placid hotelier Serge Lussi, and the commission members all have close ties to Lake Placid. The commission received $5 million from the state when it was founded.
Its mission, according to its on-line site, is to support and develop Upstate New York as a sports destination for international and national winter sports events.
And so far? Well, some money was allocated to a hospitality center in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and some small grants have been given to the Lake Placid Ski Education Foundation, based at Whiteface. Last year, the commission was credited with granting $100,000 to allow operations of the ice skating rink at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
And the rest of the money allocated by the state? Financial help for the Empire State Games, or the luge World Cup this weekend, perhaps? Or for other recent national or international events in Lake Placid like the world bobsled championships last year? Nothing. And the commission? Missing in action, it seems.
Kudos to 28-year-old Emily Stephen of Saratoga Springs, who recently won a gold medal in the super-G event at the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea.
The West Mountain regular is one of 213 athletes from the U.S. who competed in the games which drew competitors from 110 countries.
AIR TIME FOR BIATHLON
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are just a year away, and NBC Sports this weekend will provide two hours of coverage of the Biathlon World Championships being held in the Czech Republic.
Coming just a week after the Super Bowl, it would be easy to dismiss this as just a between-seasons TV time filler. But give this telecast of a try. It is on the NBC Sports Network today and Sunday, starting at 6 p.m.
Biathlon is a compelling spectator sport, in person or on TV.
More than a decade ago, officials of the sport determined that without public interest, biathlon would disappear. So officials met with television executives to discuss how to make biathlon more interesting. What they came up with was to make it a “stadium” sport, where the whole competition could be followed on television. No more disappearing into the woods for a half-hour, then emerge to shoot a few rounds then head back into the woods again. Now, all the skiing is out in the open. And the shooting part provides great drama. A lead in skiing can disappear if shots are missed and a competitor must take penalty laps.
Biathlon is a very popular spectator sport in Europe, and international competitions are broadcast start to finish. Tune in if you can this weekend and see why it is a great sport to watch. And get ready to cheer for a U.S. team that includes veterans Lowell Bailey from Lake Placid and Tim Burke from Paul Smith’s. Both are three-time Olympians.