As Empire games approach, North Country continues legacy as winter sport powerhouse

I was up in Ottawa over the weekend watching my son Nicholas compete in the Gatineau Loppet and I came away with a clearer sense of just how dominant the North Country is when it comes to Nordic sports.

In the 5k classic competition, three out of the ten top finishers were from our region, two from Saranac Lake and one — top finisher Aaron Newell — was from Queensbury.

That was no anomaly.  In the 16k classic race, two of the top five racers were from the North Country, including third-place finisher Keith Kogut from Tupper Lake and first-place finisher Bill Frielinghause from Queensbury.

A lot of these racers are young high schoolers, which suggests that the region’s feeder-trainer programs are robust.

Currently, a cadre of our best Nordic athletes are competing on the world stage, with Lowell Bailey, Haley Johnson, (Lake Placid), and Tim Burke (Paul Smiths) looking string in the World Cup biathlon circuit.

Billy Demong from Vermontville also continues his dominant run in Nordic combined, though his schedule this year has been limited because of the birth of his first child.

Also, John Napier from Lake Placid continues to compete well in the bobsled.

And for good measure, Annelies Cook from Saranac Lake has worked her way back into the World Cup biathlon circuit.

It’s a pretty remarkable showing for our rural corner of New York state.

One way that we can show support is to turn out this weekend for the Empire State Winter Games, being sponsored this coming weekend by Adirondack communities.

Should be some great competitions, and a lot of fun times.  And it’s a chance to see some of our best talent compete.

(One bitter pill here is that the banner on New York state’s Empire State Games website continues to trumpet the erroneous notion that these games have been canceled.  Only down in the fine print is it made clear that the games are continuing under local leadership.  New York state should simply place a redirect on their defunct website, sending people to the new website…)

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