The 1st Winter Goodwill Games were held at Lake Placid, New York from February 16th to the 20th. The facilities which were built for the Olympics were perfect venues for the Winter Goodwill Games. The events included figure skating, alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, nordic combined, ski jumping, luge, bobsled, skeleton and short track speed skating. There were multiple events going on all day and into the night. They took place in the town of Lake Placid and at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg, Whiteface Mountain and Mackenzie-Interval venues. All of these sites were no more than a few miles from the town of Lake Placid and could be easily reached by the free shuttle bus service that was provided.
There was almost a half a million dollars in prize money and glory for all, especially the US Freestyle and Snowboard Teams, who dominated their respective events. I was very proud to see three skiers from my old hometown of Buffalo, NY on the US Freestyle Team. One of them, aerialist Kelly Hilliman, is the niece of one of my cousins. Mogul skier, Alex Wilson, another Buffalonian had a big group of fans cheering him on and Jillian Vogtli, from Ellicotville (just outside of Buffalo) shocked the crowd with her blond hair streaked with blue dye.
Because there was so much going on, I was not able to cover all the events, so I concentrated on the downhill skiing and snowboarding venues. To find out more about other events, just click http://www.goodwillgames.com where you can learn about all the other competitions.
For me, the moguls are the ultimate in skiing, the bumps are where it’s at. Watching these guys and gals ski through the bumps at a level that I’ll never attain, is something else. They come straight down the fall line with their knees pumping like pistons, making the first jump, skiing more bumps and taking more air on a second jump, before crossing the finish line. Their speed, the perfection of their turns, and the BIG air they get off the jumps boggles my mind. I know that if I live for a thousand years, I’d never be as good as any of these astounding athletes.
Janne Lahtela of Finland attained a perfect score in turns (and they WERE perfect) and won the Gold Medal. Jean-Luc Brassard of Canada, took home the Silver with a triple twister-spread. American Ryan Riley bagged the Bronze Medal with a 180 spread 180. For the women, it was beautiful Kari Traa from Norway who aced out two Americans and took top honors, Ann Battelle from Steamboat Springs placed 2nd with Justine Van Houte taking 3rd place honors.
In this event two skiers battle each other through the bumps to the finish line. I saw huge jumps that included helicopters, spread eagles, and many triple and quadruple maneuvers in the air. Pierre Rousseau (Canada) placed 1st, Ryan Riley (USA) moved up a notch into 2nd place and Sami Mustonen (Finland) came in 3rd. Riley thinks it’s great, the way snowboarding is pushing the level of freestyle skiing. According to him, “all the new tricks keep the spectators on their toes.” For the women, it was Ann Battelle (USA) moved up to the top spot, Aiko Uemura (Japan) was 2nd and Norwegian, Kari Traa dropping down into 3rd place.
The most spectacular event at the games was the Aerials. Skier after skier shot into the air spinning and tumbling 70 feet above the heads of the spectators. The US team completely dominated this event with the men’s team taking home all the medals. Eric Bergoust nailed 1st, Britt Swartley took 2nd and Joe Pack placed 3rd. Eric upped the anti when he saw the perfect performance of his teammate Britt and increased the difficulty of his trick, performing a quadruple-twisting, triple somersault. The women’s podium hosted Veronica Brenner (USA), winner of the Gold Medal, Nannan Xu (China) Silver Medal winner 2nd and Brenda Petzold (USA) took home the Bronze. The US Aerial Freestyle Team won five out of the six medals in this event.
They held two downhill races on a steep, icy course, racing “top to bottom” down Skyward Trail. This was the first downhill race down this trail since the 1980 Olympics. Thursday’s competition was won by Morten Aageheim of Norway, with teammate Arne Sneli placing 2nd and Micahael Neumayer of Germany in 3rd. The next day’s race was won by Ed Podivinsky of Canada who took the Gold Medal, with American Chris Puckett taking the Silver and Austrian Fritz Strobl bringing home the Bronze. Daron Rahlves, from the U.S. Team told me that the course was “excellent, totally solid, icy up top just the way we like for racing.”
The halfpipe event was spectacular, with snowboarders like Ricky Bower charging from the gate, zooming out of the halfpipe, and flying high above the heads of the spectators, with the US team making a clean sweep, taking the top four places. Ross Powers nailed 1st, Tommy Czeschin 2nd, Rob Kingwill 3rd and Ricky Bower 4th. For the women, it was USA’s Tricia Byrnes in 1st, teammate Kelly Clark in 2nd with Canadian, Kim Dunn acing out American, Gretchen Bleiler for 3rd, preventing the US team from taking home all six medals in this event.
The snowboard Super G took place on the downhill course, as 24 men and 24 women were allowed only one run down this treacherous, icy trail. This event was also dominated by the US team with Sondra Van Ert (Ketchum, ID) placing 1st. She described the course as “really hairball,” with soft snow, bumps, flats, ice and blind knolls. Rosey Fletcher (Girdwood, AR) took 2nd, and Stacy Hookum (Edwards, CO) came in 3rd for the women. Stacy really likes it bumpy and found the conditions to be ideal for her kind of riding which is not as “on the edge” `like some of the other girls. Sondra attributed the sweep for the US women to the whole team from the coaches to the technicians meshing together. For the men, it was Ian Price, from Manchester, VT who brought home the Gold, Alexander Maier from Austria was 2nd and Chris Klug from Aspen, CO was 3rd. Once again, the USA cleaned house, winning five out of six medals.
This was definitely the wildest event that took place on the snow. As many as six competitors line up in the starting gate and careen down the course jumping over ridges, flying into the air, racing down flats and around high-banked turns, with plenty of spills as they literally fought their way onto the podium. This course was much longer than the course at the X Games and much more difficult. Racers reached breathtaking speeds and some of them even dropped out because of the difficulty of the course. Scott Gaffney from Canada took 1st, teammate Mathieu Morency placed 2nd and Arther Hackofer from Italy took 3rd. For the gals, it was Candice Drouin (Canada) in 1st place, Sophia Bergdahl (Sweden) 2nd and USA’s Kelly Clark in 3rd.
The Goodwill Games were a thrilling experience. I got to renew my friendship with athletes I had met at other events, like freestyle mogul coach Christian Marcoux who is known for his big air. He has fine-tuned the Canadian team to the point where they bring home more than their share of medals. The competition is so keen in the mogul competition, that the Americans, Canadians or Finns are constantly fighting for a spot on the podium. It was great to see Eric Dybvig who’s exploits I have been chronicling ever since he won a spot on the Olympic Team at the World Cup in Breckenridge. I had the opportunity to chat with this mogul maniac who hails from Tunbridge, VT. He told me he learned to ski bumps with the “Rat Pack” at Killington, my old stomping ground. He took some really BIG air in the Duals and crashed and burned big-time. He confessed to me that he does a little snowboarding in his free time and can be found playing in the halfpipe, performing aerials with his shredder friends. He is off to Italy, so if you hear of someone doing a 720 off a gondola into a canal in Venice, I suspect it will be Eric.
Lake Placid played host to hundreds of world-class athletes and thousands of guests. The town was buzzing with excitement and was a perfect spot for these games. The Goodwill Games was just a preview of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. And if this was any indication, the US Teams will play a dominant role in Salt Lake.
The United States won a total of 34 medals: 11 gold, 10 silver and 13 bronze. Canada was 2nd with 15 medals that included eight gold, four silver and three bronze. Next came Germany with eight, China with seven, and Austria and Norway with six. Italy won five, Russia four, and Australia, Finland, Japan, and Sweden had three each. Bulgaria, France, and Latvia got took home two medals. Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine and Great Britain acquired one each and Belarus, Czech and Switzerland went home empty handed.