Where will you be in February 2022?
No idea, right?
Niskayuna resident Sarah Simson knows exactly where she'll be: in Beijing, China, where she will be judging the freestyle ski events at the next Winter Olympics.
She has been selected as the U.S. representative on the international panel of judges for the games. Word came late one evening in October. She knew a call was coming, but didn't know it would tell her that she was the U.S. choice to judge in the Winter Olympics.
"I was flabbergasted." she said recently. "Excited. Thrilled.”
Unexpected as it may have been to her, a quick look at the record strongly indicates the choice should come as no surprise.
Simson began judging freestyle competition in 1992. The Minnesota native was then working in Boston, and became friends with colleague Nancy Stone, whose daughter Nikki was a freestyle competitor who would go on to earn both a degree at Union College and an Olympic gold medal in aerials competition.
It was also the year that Sarah met Jay Simson at a judges' training clinic in Lake Placid. He was already an experienced freestyle judge. They married and she moved to our area, where Jay was an established trade association executive. Jay Simson continued his freestyle judging activities and Sarah Simson tagged along, including to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where he was the head judge of all the freestyle disciplines.
Along the way, Sarah Simson established her own credentials as a freestyle judge. She was certified for World Cup competitions in 2004, judged abroad for the first time in 2008, judged at the World Championships in 2011 and last winter made a “27-hour trip” through 13 time zones to officiate at a World Cup event in Kazakhstan in the Tien Shan mountains, south of Russia.
The Olympics is the pinnacle of assignments in international sports. But in past years, while qualified, she chose not to apply for the assignment because of Jay's continuing association with U.S. Skiing and the FIS, the world governing body of skiing. He retired, though, as the U.S. representative two years ago and was no longer involved in the selection of judges, so Sarah decided to try this time around.
Countries nominate judges for the Olympics and the choice of the U.S. Federation is always a strong candidate to be on the panel chosen for the games. In the United States, there are now only a handful of people eligible to judge Olympic competition. Simson is certified in all four Olympic events: men's and women's moguls, and men's and women's aerials.
Judging freestyle is daunting. In the moguls competition, there are seven scoring judges; five evaluate the bumps and the lines, and two assess the jumps. In the aerials, there are five judges, all of whom score each of the competitors for takeoff, airborne maneuvers and landing.
In the past two years, judges in the aerial events have had access to video, a change to an event in which competitors make as many as eight twists and flips in a single jump lasting about two seconds.
There is no such technical help in the moguls competition. What the judges see is what the competitors get — and they get it fast. Typically, the judging is complete and tallied within 10 seconds.
Simson saw the 2022 Olympic facility when she judged a World Cup competition there two winters ago. A high-speed train is expected to be in place for the Games, reducing what was a multihour car ride to the venue outside Beijing to about 50 minutes. But watching the competitors in practice, as well as in competitions, is important, so she doesn't expect to have much time to see a lot more of the Games.
The Winter Olympics take place just once every four years, and with others qualified to judge, she is certain that these games will be her only Olympic assignment.
But that doesn't mean she will be done with judging.
“I'm delighted and honored to get the Olympic assignment,” she said, “but I plan to continue to work at places like Stratton, Killington and Lake Placid, where I get just as much pleasure watching a 10-year-old cross the finish line in a mogul run."
Simson does not get to stay home waiting for the trip to China. She will judge World Cup events in Canada this winter in Quebec and in Calgary, Alberta.
NO LAKE PLACID FREESTYLE THIS WINTER
For more than 20 years, Whiteface and the Intervale jumping site in Lake Placid have hosted World Cup freestyle events in January.
But not this winter.
The United States will host just one World Cup event this winter, and officials chose Deer Valley in Utah, where the freestyle team is headquartered.
The Copperfield Inn on Main Street in North Creek has been sold. Built in the early 1990s by Long Island developer Elliot Montor, it was the first modern hotel in the village and brought needed expansion to the local bed base. It featured 31 rooms, two restaurants and meeting facilities.
It was hoped this would mark the start of an overnight tourism renaissance in the area around Gore Mountain. It didn't happen. Montor gave up his business interests in the village 15 years ago, and the hotel property has floundered since. The new owner indicates plans to renovate the property in 2020.
In my opinion, the most dangerous part of a ski day is the car ride home.
Chances are you got up early in the morning, worked hard in the cold outdoors all day and, when getting into the car for the drive home, turned up the heat to get comfortable. At this time of year, it is likely you are driving home at dusk, possibly into the setting sun.
These conditions make it easy to nod off. I make it a point to stop at least once on the drive home, even if I don't think I need the break. I get out and walk at least a few steps. It is always refreshing, and I am still here to talk about it.
Drowsy driving is a hazard you can minimize.
Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected].