April 22, 2019

Trip report for the 2019 International Children’s Games, Lake Placid – Part One

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In this three part series, Coach John McNern will relate his personal experiences at the ICG and convey the excitement of this wonderful event. Team Kelowna had two Telemark biathletes, three Telemark cross country athletes, and a girls hockey team at the Games.

The International Children’s flag has come down, the speeches have been made, and if you look around the crowd of athletes and coaches in the 1932 Lake Placid Olympic ice arena, you can see smiles and happy energy on everyone’s faces. The competition is over, but the dance and more importantly, the final chance to trade for of pins and toques will close the final night for the international kids.

But earlier in the week, it all began Sunday when the biathlon team met up in Montreal. Enzo and Rob Fershau arrived the night earlier. The Fershaus and McNerns rented a car for the week, and after loading the skis and suitcases up, the first order of business were St Viateur bagels and La Banquise poutine. They were both awesome.

Off to Lake Placid and a smooth roll through the US border – after the two and a half hour drive we had arrived!

Lake Placid looms large in the memories and mythology of Winter Sport for the adults. The outdoor speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won his 5 golds, the US vs. Soviets “Miracle on Ice” men’s hockey gold win. Driving into town for the first time, however, was surprisingly underwhelming. Lake Placid is still a beautiful, cozy and quaint town, much like a big Revelstoke or a small Nelson. American hospitality is still of a high standard.

We met Lorraine Friesen, ferocious Biathlon supporter and the Head of Delegation for the City of Kelowna, and checked into the Golden Arrow hotel, with rooms overlooking the beautiful and frozen Lake Placid. Or at least I thought so. A day later I found out it was called Mirror Lake, still beautiful and frozen. In the car the next day we got a glimpse of the corner of Lake Placid further out of town between some buildings. I am sure it was beautiful too.

Coach Dave Urness of Team Telemark bunked with myself, Biathlon. Enzo and Timur bunked with Nathan Achtem of the Telemark cross country team. Also on skis for the Kelowna team were Kaelin Urness and Sofie Steinruck.

After a dinner feast most notable for its tatter tots, a relatively quiet night preceded the first day on snow, the Monday practice session.

Monday January 7th was a clear day, a few degrees below zero. First order of business was the coaches meeting.  No high fluoro’s were agreed upon (Slovenia seemed to happily add high fluoro top coat to their skis after this). Relay teams were to be decided that night so people could get to know their teammate before the race (took 2 days.) The courses were discussed and then penalty loop was to be 80m for the long course, 60m for the sprint elimination rounds (it was 80 for both). Then off to the venue. Less than a 10 minute drive brought us to the Olympic 90 metre and 120 metre ski jump venue, where cross country and biathlon races were to be held. After the Nordic teams held their ski practice it was our turn to hit the air rifle range.

Timur and Enzo ready to go!

Well, sort of. They were still building it. The range was 10 lanes for air rifles shot at 10 metres prone on large targets. They were still tilting over tables and screwing the targets to them. So, off for a ski. The course was a fun one. Out of the gate a short sharp hill, a flat, down a bit then up a bit of slog up, a hairpin turn and right back down, around the back and onto the range. The course is advertised as 1000 m with a 30 m elevation change, which seems to feel more significant than Telemark’s Heartbreak Hill.

Finally, 50 minutes late, the range opened. Enzo and Timur are quite confident marksmen, and essentially what should have been straightforward was a chaotic mess. There were three types of pellet rifles, including rotary clips and bar clips. They jammed, the clips were loaded wrong, the rifles were not zeroed. After less than an hour of practice, a strategy was developed to identify rifles that might work for the next day and which to avoid. This was only partially successful.

After practice we were off to check out the 120 metre ski jump from the top platform – all impressed with the bravery and confidence of the ski jumpers who performed the sport. Then a dinner, featuring tatter tots, and anticipation of the opening ceremonies.

The opening ceremonies were held in the 1980 ice arena. Before the ceremony we were marshalled in another arena grouped by city – Kelowna joined Lancaster Ontario, Penticton and Port Moody. Close by were several Slovenian teams, at least four from Switzerland, two from China, Estonia, Lithuania, Iceland, Cleveland, Lake Placid, and Frisco, Colorado. We in fact marshalled at least three times, as the kids would constantly diffuse around the arena to continue their pin trading with all the other teams.

Team Kelowna

The athletes “entering march” began and it was pretty cool. Lights and music and lots of waving. Seated, the ceremonies began with speeches, none too long, many references to the hallowed ice we were on (the US men’s hockey Miracle on Ice still lives on 38 years later!) and some goofy acrobatics and juggling. The highlights were the choir and the balloons that dropped all over the arena. Post opening, the Ice Cream Social was attended by the kids, and was felt to be fine but not spectacular. For the coaches, Monday night was essentially a ski waxing event.

Coach John – more to come tomorrow!