As the 2014 Olympic Winter Games draw near, area residents who coached or competed in years past are reminiscing about their experiences and anticipating what the competition in Sochi, Russia, will bring.
Speedskater Amy Peterson Peck, of Schuylerville, recalled the two bronze medals and one silver she won during her five times on the U.S. Olympic speedskating team. One of her fondest memories had nothing to do with standing on the podium, though: In the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, she carried the American flag in the opening ceremony.
“[It] is probably one of the highest honors a member of the Olympic team can have because you’re chosen by all the athletes. It’s not like something you win,” she said.
Peterson Peck, a short-track speedskater, competed in Calgary in 1988, Albertville in 1992, Lillehammer in 1994, Nagano in 1998 and finally in Salt Lake City.
On skates at 18 months old, she followed in the tracks of her mother, two aunts and two uncles, all of whom were speedskaters. Now the mother of four young boys, she plans to watch as much of the 2014 games as her busy family life will allow.
“I always love to watch the underdogs have that perfect race at the Olympic Games because really, what it’s all about is training hard for four years or eight years or 12 years of your life and you make it there and you just have that perfect race or game,” she said.
This year, Peterson Peck has her eye on short-track speedskater J.R. Celski, of Monterey, Calif.
“J.R. Celski is an unreal athlete, and I can’t wait to see him race. He’s probably considered a medal favorite in every distance in short-track,” she said.
In the long-track competition, Peterson Peck said she has high hopes for Heather Richardson, of High Point, N.C., and Brittany Bowe, of Ocala, Fla.
When the opening ceremony airs, she’ll be glued to the TV beside her sister-in-law, fellow Olympic speedskater Kristen Talbot Peck, also of Schuylerville, who participated in the 1988, 1992 and 1994 Winter Games.
Talbot Peck, a long-track skater, was just 17 when she competed in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
“That was pretty neat because it was pretty close to home,” she recalled. “There were quite a few American fans there, so the opening ceremony was spectacular. We got quite a cheer.”
She had her best finish — 17th overall — in Albertville in 1992.
“And then Lillehammer, Norway, that was a very cool Olympics. Norway is like just a winter wonderland-type place, and the people were very friendly,” she said. “That was a little bit split because my brother was sick at the time, so my thoughts were back home with him while I was there.”
Prior to the games in Lillehammer, Talbot Peck donated bone marrow to her brother, who was sick with aplastic anemia.
The granddaughter of speedskaters, her interest in the sport accelerated when at age 9, she saw long-track speedskater Eric Heiden win five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. She started training at age 12, and five years later, she was skating in front of the world.
“The [Olympic] competition itself, you’re nervous,” she admitted. “There’s quite a few more spectators than normal.”
She said she loved meeting athletes from different countries and representing the U.S.
“I think just walking in behind your flag in the opening ceremony is pretty neat,” she said.
Like her sister-in-law, Talbot Peck sees Celski as a medal contender in the 2014 games.
Cheering them on
West Coxsackie resident Paul Marchese will watch the action from the sidelines as coach of Olympic long-track skater Maria Lamb, of St. Paul, Minn. He’s also coaching China’s 2014 Olympic short-track team.
Marchese is no stranger to the Olympics. He was on the staff of the U.S. team in 2002 and 2006 as a technical specialist and with the Chinese team as an assistant coach and technical assistant in 2010.
He also runs a custom skate-building business that supplies more than 35 countries and many Olympic athletes.
In an email interview, Marchese described the Olympics as “an amazing, high-energy, big-pressure circus.
“I enjoy helping athletes not just survive those conditions but thrive in those conditions and reach beyond their expectations,” he said.
Although he never skated in the Olympics, Marchese came close several times, competing in the 1988, 1992 and 1994 U.S. Olympic Trials.
His prediction for the 2014 U.S. Olympic speedskating team: “Short-track will be about the restructuring of the U.S. team after several years of turmoil, with the help of standout U.S. skaters J.R. Celski and Jessica Smith. Long-track, we have two great sprint girls, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, as well as returning Olympic champ Shani Davis and silver medalists Brian Hansen and [Jonathan] Kuck.”
Curt Schreiner, of Day, a three-time Olympic biathlete, said he’ll be rooting for the three New Yorkers on this year’s biathlon team — Annelies Cook, of Saranac Lake, and Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, both from Lake Placid.
“I think the two guys from northern New York have a really good chance of getting a medal,” he said.
Schreiner is also watching New Hampshire native Sean Doherty, a competitor who was a member of Schreiner’s Saratoga Biathlon Club in Day.
Schreiner fell in love with biathlon while watching the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. He made the U.S. Junior World Team in 1985 and was an Olympian in 1988, 1992 and 1994.
He said the thing he enjoyed most about being an Olympian was the opening ceremony.
“They’re really a neat experience. It’s kind of hard to explain. You always just want to go do it again,” he said.
The fear of terrorist attacks at this year’s games is something to which past participants can relate. Peterson Peck recalled the lingering threat at the 2002 Olympics, held just five months after the 9/11 attacks.
“We all watched 9/11 and thought to ourselves, ‘Oh my gosh, what if they somehow cancel the Olympics because of this?’ And in the end, I think it made it that much more special for all of us who competed there, knowing that we got through 9/11 and we got to the Olympics and the games went off without a hitch,” she recounted.
Talbot Peck said she has faith that the International Olympic Committee has worked with the Russian government to make the Olympic park and village very secure. She recalled the security precautions in place when she was an Olympian.
“You couldn’t go anywhere without identification. You walked through metal detectors; your bags and all your equipment went through metal detectors,” she said.
Marchese said he expects the 2014 games to be tightly controlled, with security that tops the extreme precautions taken at the 2002 Olympics.
“There’s always somebody in the world that’s unhappy that is going to use a big event like this as a way to further their cause,” Schreiner said. “That wasn’t the intention behind the Olympics originally. It was like, wars stop and you compete with each other and maybe make some friends and stop war, but it’s the world we live in nowadays.”