Tim Burke

Historic U.S. biathlon gold: family, team, community, country - and belief


Can we be honest with each other? For a great many people, what comes out of Washington, regardless of who is who there, is just noise. What matters is what, truly, matters: family and community.

Indeed, it is the day-to-day stuff of real life, the rituals, the joys and the heartbreaks, the ups and downs of the days that can seemingly take forever and the years that go by in a blink amid children and family and community that bind us all together: the crazy quilt, the rich tapestry that is the United States of America.

This is why Lowell Bailey’s victory Thursday in a 20-kilometer race at the biathlon world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, is all the more special.

Bailey’s gold medal, in what in biathlon lingo is called the individual event, is the first — for emphasis, the first — biathlon gold for the United States at either the world championships (which date to 1958) or the Winter Games (1960, and see you next February in South Korea).

Bailey hit all 20 targets and, over the final four-kilometer loop, had to ski hard and fast to defeat Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic. The winning margin: 3.3 seconds. Martin Fourcade of France, in recent years perhaps the world’s best biathlete, took third.

What Lowell Bailey did Thursday is arguably the hardest thing to do in sports: to win when there is no evidence you can. When all you have is belief. And you, your family, your community, your team have had to sustain that belief — in this instance, on behalf of your country — for more than 20 years.

“It is a belief, a vision,” Max Cobb, the president and chief executive of U.S. Biathlon, said in a late Thursday phone call, “in the power of bringing the right people together and working as hard as you can to bring about something you really believe in and really want.

“All too often in life,” Cobb added, “we sell ourselves short by not daring to dream to do something great and trying to achieve something that seems unachievable — something that rationally seems unachievable.

“It is when you dare to do that great thing that great things happen. That is why today is so emotional.”

Lowell Bailey is 35 years old.

He has been at this biathlon thing a very, very long time. PyeongChang next year will be his fourth Olympics.

Bailey grew up around Lake Placid, New York. There are super-intense local rivalries — there is Saranac Lake, there is the farther-out hamlet of Paul Smiths, there is Lake Placid — but for the rest of us who are not locals there is, you know, Lake Placid, where 37 years ago this week they staged the Winter Games there. Eric Heiden raced and won five times. A pretty big deal hockey game went down between the Americans and Soviets.

That kind of thing, and to grow up in and around Lake Placid is to be part of that culture.

“It was such a thrill to see this,” Sue Cameron, who is literally Lowell Bailey’s next-door neighbor, said in an email.

“Everyone in Lake Placid is over the moon about his gold medal and so proud not only of Lowell but the entire U.S. biathlon team, athletes and coaches.”

Lowell Bailey grew up with a gang of kids that included, among others, Tim Burke and Billy Demong. And, as well, Haley Johnson (2010 Olympics), Annelies Cook (2014 Olympics) and Billy's younger sister, Katy.

"As young racers, all of them were obviously good and in some cases very good," said Kris Cheney-Seymour, 46, the group's first coach who now runs the state-owned nordic ski center at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

"They were by no means the Bad News Bears," he added, "but they also weren’t the prodigies. The dream was born. Probably they and their internal sport mechanisms bought into it first. Their parents were unconditional. And the community believed as well. Every step along the way was, in some ways celebrated, but also there was an inner belief that they could always do it."

Tim Burke, 35, is also a mainstay of the U.S. biathlon program. He has been to three Winter Games. At the 2013 world championships, he took second in this very same individual event.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Demong became the first American to win Olympic gold in a Nordic event, the 10km individual large hill. He then skied the final lap in a silver medal-winning relay.

Lake Placid back in the day -- purple suit: future world champion Lowell Bailey, No. 61 Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong, No. 37 world medalist Tim Burke // Helen Demong

Billy Demong and his wife, Katie, now live in Park City, Utah.

“It’s incredible,” he said in a phone call, “to look at the group we grew up with, in a small town, in a small area — and look at how much success came out of that group.”

He added a moment later, “I have always been a bigger believer in groups and culture. We had that when we were kids growing up. We showed up. We pushed each other.” And this: “Part of learning how to win back in the day and believing we could win was coming to grips with the fact that there was not something in the water in Norway that we didn’t have.”

He also said, recalling when his U.S. teammate Johnny Spillane won gold in the 7.5k sprint at the 2003 worlds, the first American to win a gold at the FIS Nordic worlds, that he — Demong — did not cry then. Nor did he — Demong — cry in 2010 in Vancouver.

On Thursday, Billy Demong, watching Lowell Bailey win via livestream on the computer, cried. In excitement. And joy.

He said he called Tim Burke’s mother — Billy, who is now 36 and the father of two young sons, could easily summon Mary Jean Burke’s landline in upstate New York from the memory bank — and “we chatted about how special it was, going back to all of our childhoods.”

He added, “This is what it’s all about.”

Lowell Bailey’s younger sister, Kendra Bailey Davis, 32, was home with her husband, Jeff, and their 6-month-old son, Milo. They were stuck to the computer, too.

“We were just tearing [up],” she said, “and the whole day has been a string of texts and phone calls and video links and social media and real media.

“I did get a chance to video chat with him,” meaning her brother, “after he got home from the medal ceremony and we just stared at each other in disbelief. It’s a pinch-me, when-will-I-wake-up kind of day.”

Lowell Bailey’s younger sister also said, “I know I keep saying it but I don’t have another word: it’s unreal. It’s a dream come true for him and for our family.”

When Lowell Bailey stepped onto the podium, there was a moment when his wife, Erika, and their 8-month-old daughter, Ophelia, joined him.

In Utah, Billy Demong got the screenshot, then immediately dispatched it across the wires to Europe, to Lowell with a message: “You’re gonna want this one.”

This season, Lowell, Erika and Ophelia Bailey have made the biathlon tour a family affair.

“Lowell has some unique qualities in that he can take on a lot of things and still focus on biathlon,” Erika Bailey said late Thursday. “This morning, before the race, he was getting ready to walk out to the race and changing Ophelia’s diaper back in the van. He was able to do that and not get stressed out.”

“For me,” Lowell Bailey said, “it has made all the difference. It is just so great to have Erika and Ophelia here. Biathlon is a brutal sport. You can be on top of the world one day and not the next. Knowing that my family is here, waking up in the morning next to them and seeing their smiling faces — that’s what is’s all about.”

This, too — the crowd cheering him on as the race drew to a close. He knew, everyone knew what was at stake.

Earlier in these 2017 worlds, Bailey had hit every shot in the sprint and finished fourth, just six seconds out of a medal. He missed once in the pursuit, finishing sixth.

Biathlon is incredibly, incredibly hard. You don’t have to understand the intricacies to draw this parallel:

Imagine you run a lap on the track at world-class speed. Say 60 seconds, maybe just under, for 400 meters. Breathing hard? Now go shoot two free throws. Now two more. And do that as quickly as you can.

After Bailey cleaned his final targets, here came this wall of noise — cheers from the stands for an American.

“It was surreal,” Bailey said.

“Until someone gets to see what this atmosphere is like, until you stand alongside the course with 30,000 people screaming, or you stand inside the stadium, you can’t describe how it’s possible in our world of NFL football fans, who doggedly support the home team, how it’s possible for an entire crowd dominated by Norwegians and Germans and definitely not Americans — that they can, in an instant, turn and throw all their support behind an American skier trying to win the first American world championships gold medal …

“Just even thinking back on it gives me goosebumps.”

He also said, “To have something like this happen when I am 35 years old — it’s an amazing thing, amazing for me to experience. I know that the only reason I have stayed in it this long is because I have enjoyed almost every minute of it from when I was 12 years old and picked up a rifle until now, and stepped on that podium.”

That is, really, what it’s really about.

How it, genuinely, works.

A group of kids, boys and girls, in Lake Placid, have big dreams. Some go on to be world-class athletes. Then the likes of Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Billy Demong win medals and they inspire young boys and girls now, wherever they might be, to try to be like them.

Just the way, way back when, when Billy made his first Olympic team, Lowell and Tim thought, hey, we can do that.

Liam Demong, 6 years old, already fully shredding it // Billy Demong

In Park City, Utah, on Wednesday, Liam Demong, who is 6, played hooky from kindergarten. Liam and Billy went skiing all day. They tore it up to the tune of about 14,000 vertical feet. For Liam, it was a super big day all around. He got to ride up on the chairlift by himself for the very first time, with some cool 10-year-old friends.

About 4:30 in the afternoon, father and son came in for a bit. Liam attacked a chicken pot pie. Then he went back out into the snow, for three hours of ski jumping, which he now says — dad is trying very hard not to be that kind of parent, you know — is his favorite sport.

“I love,” Billy Demong said, “that he loves it.

“I love that there’s a core group of friends he’s doing it with, including his next-door neighbor. It’s like watching the whole thing happen all over again.”

USOC's "stewardship": how you do it

It's a fact that the U.S. Olympic team won the overall medals count at both the 2012 London Games, with 104, and 2010 Vancouver Games, with 37. There is no federal sports ministry in the United States. Unlike virtually every other country in the world, the U.S. Olympic team is on its own. Congress set it up that way, in 1978. It said the USOC would have to raise all its own money. Then the USOC figures how to best dole it out.

A USOC report made public Tuesday underscores the keys to the Vancouver and London success: revenues and program spending are up, direct support to athletes increasingly significant and administrative expenses accounted for a mere eight percent of the budget.

The document, entitled "Stewardship Report," compiles a series of facts and figures available in other USOC materials -- say, for instance, multiple years of USOC tax filings -- and neatly wraps them into a colorful 24-page brochure.

U.S. diver David Boudia celebrates his gold-medal platform win in London // photo Getty Images

As USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, "It's a way for us to continue to tell our story."

There's humility in calling it a "Stewardship Report," of course. That theme is consistent with the leadership of chief executive Scott Blackmun and board chairman Larry Probst, who have stressed the so-called Olympic values and organizational goals over any cult of personality.

In its graphs and bar charts, all markedly filled with upward trends, the report also highlights the stability and international outreach efforts that Blackmun and Probst have brought to the USOC, including the resolution last year of a longstanding revenue dispute with the International Olympic Committee over certain television and marketing rights.

That has opened the door to a potential 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games bid from the United States, most likely 2024.

It must be noted that the USOC issued this report for its own reasons: it's essentially a one-stop document.

And though the USOC certainly did not intend to raise this question, it's only reasonable: one might wonder why, when there has been so much focus on the USOC from so many quarters over so many years, a considerable amount of that focus critical, some of that criticism on the mark but some of it fantastically misguided, other national Olympic committees aren't, in the interest of transparency, producing the same or a similar report?

Why nothing like it from, say, Germany? France? Britain? Better yet, Russia? Or China?

Indeed, why isn't it best-practice that every Olympic committee, or at least every national Olympic committee of consequence of the more than 200 worldwide, not only be obliged to produce such a report but also -- just like the USOC -- make it public?

In Olympic jargon, a four-year cycle is called a quadrennium, or quad. Over the 2009-12 quad, USOC revenues totaled $733 million, against expenditures of $675 million.

Administrative costs: $53 million, or eight percent.

Nearly $568 million, or 84 percent, went to U.S. athletes and national governing bodies through direct support and programming, according to the report.

Of that roughly $568 million, $218 million, or about 38 percent, was direct support -- meaning cash grants or benefits such as health insurance, medical services or tuition.

Another $274 million, about 48 percent, went for what the USOC calls "sport programming" -- high-performance support programs as well as funding for its Paralympic efforts and three training centers. Those centers are located in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Chula Vista, Calif.; and Lake Placid, N.Y.

The balance, $76 million, roughly 13 percent, was spent on programs such as international relations, communications and other initiatives.

The report notes that direct athlete funding nearly doubled over the 2009-12 quad, to $71.3 million, from the 2001-04 quad, when it was $38.2 million. Support to national governing bodies, which had been $144.7 million in the 2001-04 quad, dipped to $134.7 million in 05-08 but climbed back to $146.3 million in 09-12.

Obviously, this funding produced results in Vancouver and London. It also has drawn critics. Here's why:

The USOC now divides sports into three categories -- foundation, medal-opportunity and development.

"Foundation" sports are those such as track and field, swimming and skiing. These sports are defined as those with a tradition of winning multiple medals; they have a strong sports infrastructure and a development pipeline.

If you are an athlete in one of these sports, as the report notes, "direct support is strategically allocated to give the number of American athletes the opportunity to reach the podium."

In London, the swim team won 31 medals, the track team 29. In Vancouver, the ski team won 21 of the 37.

"Medal-opportunity" sports are those such as diving, archery and boxing. In London, all three came up big -- diving for sure, including David Boudia's platform gold, and even boxing, in which U.S. women won medals. In Sochi next February, biathlon has been targeted as a medal opportunity even though the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in the sport; Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, N.Y., won a silver in the 20-kilometer individual event at the 2013 world championships.

Then there are the "development" sports, which for now include the likes of canoe/kayak, weightlifting and table tennis. As the report notes, sports "with strong track records and international success receive a higher proportion of the available funds (75 percent in the 2009-2012 quadrennium). The more that U.S. athletes earn medals, the more resources the USOC is able to generate."

Which of course begs the question: if you don't have the money to win in ping-pong, how are you supposed to win in ping-pong to beat the Chinese, so you can get more money from the USOC to win in ping-pong?

Switching gears, the report notes the obvious revenue point -- that broadcast rights make up the largest chunk, 37 percent, $272 million, of the $733 million.

Domestic sponsors and licensed merchandise come next, at $183 million, 25 percent.

Worldwide sponsors rank third, at $124 million, 17 percent, with everything else in single-digit percentages.

What's also abundantly clear is the largely untapped revenue stream that awaits the USOC, if it could ever figure out how -- major gifts account for a mere 4 percent, just $32 million.

A Sports Business Journal report Monday said the USOC plans to create a new foundation with the aim of raising $35 million in the coming years, Blackmun saying in the story he intends to spend half his time this year on the effort.

Building the foundation and identifying a potential 2024 bid city are his two top priorities, Blackmun also said in that story.


Tim Burke's historic silver medal


There are moments in sports when all the hard work, the dreams, the belief without evidence -- it all pays off.

It finally happened Thursday for Tim Burke and the U.S. men's biathlon team at the world championships in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republic.

Burke, 31, of Paul Smiths, N.Y., took silver in the 20-kilometer individual event, his first career world championship medal. The medal marked the first for the United States at a world championships since Josh Thompson's 20k individual silver in 1987.

Burke crossed in 50 minutes, 6.5 seconds, with one penalty. He finished 23.5 seconds behind the World Cup leader, Martin Fourcade of France, who won his first medal of the 2013 championships in 49:43 flat, with one penalty. Sweden's Fredrik Lindström took third, in 50:16.7.

Tim Burke skiing to a historic silver medal at the biathlon world championships in the Czech Republic // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and US Biathlon

The United States has never -- repeat, never -- won an Olympic medal in biathlon.

Thursday's race is of course no guarantee of anything at the Winter Games come next February.

But now Burke and the American team head to Sochi knowing with certainty that he -- and they -- are just as good as anyone else.

That is a huge emotional and mental barrier that just got crossed.


Two other Americans produced solid showings Thursday: Leif Nordgren finished 22nd, Lowell Bailey 29th.

Meanwhile, at last month's biathlon junior world championships in Obertilliach, Austria, Sean Doherty made U.S. biathlon history as well -- becoming the first to win three medals in a single championships, including gold in the 10k pursuit, emerging as a solid contender to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in the relay.

Suddenly, the Americans are no joke. They're for real.

"I don't look at it like building pressure," meaning toward Sochi, Burke said in a telephone interview. "I look at [the silver medal] as an awesome way of, 'I know I can do it.' It's not, 'Can I do it?' I know it's possible. I don't have to worry about that."

He also said, referring to the possibility of making the podium in Sochi, "I am not the only one who has been saying this. Max [Cobb, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Biathlon Federation], Bernd [Eisenbichler, the team's high performance director], everyone has been saying this to the U.S. Olympic Committee and to our sponsors: 'These guys can win medals.'

"Today proves what they have been saying is true."

It is also true that Burke's race -- and finish -- served as a reminder that sports still can, even on a day in which the headlines involving the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius dominated so much, offer up a lesson in amity and goodwill.

Everyone in the tightly knit biathlon world knows the Americans have gone winless in the Olympics.

Everyone knows, too, that Burke wore the yellow jersey -- emblematic of the World Cup tour leader -- during the 2010 season but since then had to manage a comeback from a leg condition called "compartment syndrome" that's common to Nordic skiers.

A few weeks back, in December, at a World Cup in Slovenia, he took a third place in a 15k mass start -- his first podium finish since that 2010 season.

So he came to the worlds, which kicked off last Thursday, looking for big things. Then, though, his first two races didn't produce the results he was looking for -- tied for 28th in the 10k sprint, 32nd in the 12.5k pursuit.

The U.S. men's biathlon team celebrates Tim Burke's silver // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and U.S. Biathlon

This, though, is where the winning mental edge plays such a huge role in big-time sports.

Instead of sulking, or getting down, Burke stayed calm and focused on what was in front of him. He couldn't change what had already happened. He could only race the races still left to race.

"Today," he's said, "I felt like i was on a man on mission. I couldn't go through these championships -- after preparing all year -- and not show what I was capable of. Per [Nilsson], my coach, did a great job of shaking me up and telling me just to continue to believe in myself. He said, 'Don't you dare give up on these championships, things can change from day to day.' "

Burke drew a late start number -- 65 -- and so for most of the race he was able to shoot and ski without having any idea where he was in the standings. That also meant he didn't get caught up in his head in what was going on around him. It was just him, his skis and his gun.

It wasn't until his last time into the shooting range, when he heard the announcer say he was challenging for the gold medal, that he realized what was up. At that point, he said, "I tried not to think about it and stick to my routine." Laughing, he added, "I think I did a pretty good job. I was happy."

Out on the course, meanwhile, everyone else knew what was going on -- even if Burke didn't. Cobb, surrounded by well-wishers from other teams, could sense the excitement building as time kept ticking. As Burke skied near, and then across, the finish line, Cobb said, the scene was "just phenomenal."

Cobb said athletes, coaches and support staff from all over the world came over and high-fived the American contingent.

"It was one of those moments," Cobb said, "when you understand the role that sport can play, this notion that sport can bring the world together. That was in evidence today … in the finish line, and up on the course where I was, probably two dozen nations or more and they couldn't have been more excited for Tim and for us as this happened.

"It was," he said, "a really great moment."

Tim Burke back in the spotlight

Tim Burke finished third in a World Cup biathlon Sunday in Pokljuka, Slovenia, his first podium finish since the 2010 season, highlighting an extraordinary weekend for American athletes on skis. Burke's third-place in the 15-kilometer mass start marked his fourth career top-three finish.

"I feel like I'm back in the form I had before," Burke said over the phone. "And I'm more confident now."

Left to right: Jakov Fak of Slovenia, Andreas Birnbacher of Germany, Tim Burke of the United States on the podium // photo US Biathlon/Nordic Focus

Comparing Burke's achievement to those of other Americans over the weekend is, of course, something of apples to oranges. After all:

In Alta Badia, Italy, on Sunday, alpine racer Ted Ligety dominated a giant slalom to win by 2.04 seconds over Austria's Marcel Hirscher. It was Ligety's 14th career giant-slalom victory, tying him for fourth on the all-time wins list.

On Saturday, in snowy, foggy Val Gardena, Italy, downhiller Steven Nyman, starting 39th -- won. He missed all of last year with a torn left Achilles' tendon. Nyman's last top-three finish: 2007, at Beaver Creek, Colo.

Also in Val Gardena, Travis Ganong put down a career-best tenth.

In freestyle skiing on Saturday in Ruka, Finland, Heather McPhie -- relying on her back-X and signature D-spin -- notched her first World Cup victory in three seasons; on the men's side, Jeremy Cota took third. Four U.S. women placed in the top 10 and three American men in the top six.

In World Cup snowboard-cross racing Friday at Telluride, Colo., two-time Olympic champion Seth Wescott -- who was out much of last year with a shoulder injury -- won a photo finish in a blizzard to prevail over Australia's Alex Pullin, who had beaten him in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Wescott and X Games champ Nate Holland won Saturday's team event.

"It feels really good to be back," Wescott said after winning Friday's race, adding, "…When I hole-shotted that first one, I said, 'Here we go, I love doing this.' "

In men's halfpipe Saturday in Breckenridge, Colo., on the Dew Tour, Shaun White and Louie Vito went one-two, White throwing an enormous signature double McTwist 1200 in his first run to score 95.25; Kaitlyn Farrington -- who debuted back-to-back 900s for the first time in her competition run -- won the women's event, Maddy Schaffrick taking third.

"I am excited! After coming off a knee injury this summer I am glad to be on top," White said. "I feel great and am pumped for the season. This is the road to Sochi!"

Also in Breckenridge, in the women's freeski superpipe, Brita Sigourney and Maddie Bowman went 1-2, Sigourney winning in her first competition after suffering a knee injury last February and training hard at the U.S. Ski Team's Park City's Center of Excellence workout facility all summer.

And Jamie Anderson won the slopestyle event, her run featuring spins in all four directions: a half cab 5-0, frontside 720, switch backside 540 and, finally, a huge 540 that she floated to the bottom.

In cross-country skiing, at the World Cup sprints Saturday in Canmore, Canada, Kikkan Randall took second, behind Norway's Maiken Kaspersen Falla. Randall leads the World Cup sprint standings; she moved up to second in the overall standings. The top American man, Andy Newell, finished fifth.

With all that … Tim Burke? And third place?


Tim Burke.

Because biathlon, and Burke, are all about context, promise and opportunity.

The U.S. biathlon team has never -- again, never -- won an Olympic medal and Burke is one of its best bets to do so at the Sochi 2014 Games.

Burke also said by phone Sunday about his third-place finish, "This is big for me," and those words hold way more than just the obvious.

Amid his breakout 2010 season, Burke turned up with a painful condition, "compartment syndrome," that's not uncommon to Nordic skiers. The surgery and recovery had kept him out of the spotlight since.

But it was clear as the weekend's events progressed that Burke was on the verge of breaking through. He finished fourth in the 10k sprint and seventh in the 12.5 pursuit.

A biathlon primer: only 30 guys start in the 15k mass start, and those 30 must qualify. Of the 30 in Sunday's race, only two were North Americans -- Burke and Canada's Jean Philippe Leguellec, who would finish 21st.

Only one guy shot clean Sunday, Andreas Birnbacher of Germany. No surprise -- he won.

Jakov Fak of Slovenia, the winner of Thursday's sprint, missed just two shots. He finished just five seconds ahead of Burke.

Burke shot clean in the first two stages, then incurred a single penalty on the each of the last two stages.

He crossed the finish line a mere 3.3 seconds ahead of Martin Fourcade of France, the current World Cup leader. The solid weekend in Pokljuka lifted Burke to sixth in the overall World Cup standings.

What-ifs are usually of no consequence -- but in this instance, it's worth noting that if Burke had shot clean, his skiing is once again sound enough again that he might well have won Sunday's race.

The only reason to bring that up is that finishing third is the kind of thing that makes a guy think he can get to first, and -- just as importantly -- challenge for that top spot consistently.

"It's one thing," Burke said, "to know your training is going well, to think you can do this in a race.

"It's another to do it in a race.

"Now I know."

A fresh look at the Lake Placid model

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- The Olympic spirit is at once real and yet tremendously difficult to define or quantify. If there is ever a place that has that spirit, however, it is here, in this little town of not even 3,000 people.

Here, the bronze medal that Andrew Weibrecht won in the super-G at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics hangs in a frame behind the check-in desk at the Mirror Lake Inn, run by his parents, Ed and Lisa. Just steps off Main Street -- literally, just a couple steps -- sits the oval where Eric Heiden won all five speed-skating races in 1980; every winter that oval is frozen over and used by kids and, well, anyone with a pair of skates.

A short drive away is the bobsled track. Even closer, standing sentinel over town, is the ski jump. It looks out, over among other things, Whiteface Mountain and and the ski runs and of course, straight down below, the simple cauldron that was used at those 1980 Winter Games, a reminder of how no-frills the Olympics used to be.

Thirty-two years after those Games, all these facilities are in working order. Everything is here, everything works and everything is a short drive -- or a walk -- from everything else. And, of course, everyone, it seems, wants to play hockey in the arena that Mike Eruzione and the U.S. team made famous.

But that's no miracle. That's testament to vision and public policy and the notion that the Olympic spirit matters -- indeed, that legacy matters.

The International Olympic Committee now stresses the notion of legacy -- that a Games shouldn't just come to a particular town and then leave so-called white elephants, a bunch of facilities and venues idling away, or worse, torn down after being built at a cost of millions.

Lake Placid, host to the Winter Games in 1932 and 1980, was way ahead of its time.

Maybe it's time to take a fresh look at the Lake Placid model.

The last editions of the Winter Olympics have gone to big cities -- Vancouver, Torino, Salt Lake, Nagano.

Before that came Lillehammer, and the small-town feel of Lillehammer is what the organizers of the Pyeongchang Games say they aim, in part, to deliver in 2018. Even so, those Korean Games will involve considerable infrastructure costs.

The capital costs of the Sochi 2014 project absolutely will run to the billions. It's unclear if the true costs will ever be known, since accounting will be at the discretion of the Russian government.

The bobsled run used for the 2006 Torino Winter Games cost $100 million to build, $2 million to operate annually. It was announced last month that it is due to be dismantled.

Contrast: the 20-curve, 4,773-foot bobsled track in Lake Placid, re-built for the February, 2000, Goodwill Games, is now a mainstay on the World Cup circuit, the tour making its usual stop here recently.

The track cost about $30 million, according to Ted Blazer, the president and chief executive officer of the New York state Olympic Regional Development Authority.

ORDA's annual budget now runs to about $32 million.

Each fiscal year since 1982-83, the state has kicked in millions of dollars to ORDA, recognizing the value in the Olympic brand in Lake Placid.

Again, and for overseas critics of the American style of Olympic budgeting: every year for 30 years that has been a line item in the state budget, proposed by the governor, reviewed by the legislature; each year, it has been approved, and in some years with significant capital outlays or debt-service obligations.

Since the 1982-83 fiscal year, the state's contribution totals just under $228.3 million.

That is more than just legacy. That is building for the present, and the future.

That commitment has put Lake Placid in position to bid for, say, the 2020 or 2024 Youth Winter Olympic Games. There would be issues, perhaps significant -- where to house that many athletes, for instance, because any new development would have to contend with the fundamental issue that Lake Placid is surrounded by state parkland. Nonetheless, such a bid would seem to be on the radar.

"Having the athletes rub elbows with all the tourists in town, we're doing it in this beautiful pristine environment -- it's who we are," Blazer said. "When you think of Lake Placid -- it's the whole game, it's one neat package right here. It's not the big city where it gets lost. It gives us identity."

Added Jeff Potter, ORDA's director of corporate development, "We have hosted the two Olympic Games. It's just in our DNA to continue that legacy."

The U.S. Olympic Committee opened its current training facility in town in 1989.

Steve Holcomb, the current world and Olympic four-man bobsled champion, said, "Lake Placid is such a small town -- so far out of the way -- but it's so Olympic and so big. They have done a great job. The 'Miracle on Ice' -- they took that and ran with it. They have the Olympic Training Center there and they work really, really hard to make sure they maximize what they have there."

The culture in Lake Placid -- families and volunteers committed to winter sports -- also stands as a key part of why this little town so far out of the way remains hugely relevant in Olympic circles.

Simply put, you grow up here with the Olympic Games in mind. Billy Demong, a gold and silver medalist at the Vancouver Games in the Nordic combined, made his first Olympic team at the Nagano 1998 Games, when he was just 17.

Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke have both been to the 2006 and 2010 Games in biathlon, and are aiming for Sochi in 2014; Bailey is from Lake Placid, Burke from Paul Smiths, a hamlet a few miles to the northwest.

"Growing up in Lake Placid," Bailey said, "you are surrounded by people at every step of the Olympic journey, the Olympic path. There are gold medalists who live in town. There are people who have gotten an Olympic medal and come back to town. You have the Olympics from the organizational standpoint. There is everything in between. There were athletes ahead of us. Billy Demong was the first of us … that was something we saw. You saw what was possible, and that made it so much more motivating."

Echoed Burke, "Growing up around Lake Placid, it seems so much more attainable. In other towns, it's something you might see on TV every four years. For us -- it's something we live every day."

Russell Currier's breakthrough

Never before had Russell Currier so much as cracked the top-50 in a World Cup biathlon. Until Saturday.

Currier, a 24-year-old from Stockholm, Maine, finished sixth at the World Cup 10-kilometer sprint in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republic. Tim Burke finished 11th. Lowell Bailey came in 21st and Jay Hakkinen 31st.

Currier finished 23.2 seconds back of the winner, Emil Hegle Svendsen, who crossed in 27:13.1. French brothers Simon and Martin Fourcade took second and third.

The strong U.S. finish, led by Currier, underscores the enhanced legitimacy of  the American team as it builds toward  Sochi and 2014.

It's a question of persistence, patience and, of course, performance -- not unlike that delivered by the U.S. men's Nordic combined team, which broke through at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Currier is now the fourth man on the U.S. team to finish top-10 already this season -- evidence that, finally, the Americans have some depth.

Burke, Bailey and Hakkinen are veterans.

Leif Nordgren, for instance, anchored the U.S. relay to a sixth-place finish at the 2011 world championships.

There are others. But everyone associated with the program has long understood that Currier -- who is a product of the Maine Winter Sports Center -- could be a star.

If -- and this has always been the big if -- he could just dial in the shooting part of the sport.

Russell's skiing: solid.

The shooting: that has, over the years, needed work.

After a camp this fall, in Utah, he and his coaches went back to the drawing board. They changed the sight on his rifle. They worked on the way he went about taking his breaths during the prone segment of the shooting. They worked on what he was thinking about in the shooting range.

"We changed up the focus and committed to a few thought processes ingrained into my head so that every time I come into shoot, no matter where I am, it's the same consistent thought process -- so that I get a foundation of consistency," he said late Saturday.

If that sounds elemental -- at this level, sometimes simple things can make a big difference.

It was really windy Saturday out on the Nove Mesto course. Didn't matter.

Russell Currier shot clean. No penalties.

"It's this American dream," said Bernd Eisenbichler, the U.S. team's high-performance director. "…In the end, he has proved he has the potential to belong on the podium. It's super."

Russell's was one of only two clean shooting performances on the day.

"I haven't been this excited about racing since I was 14," Russell said afterward. "It feels like -- I just can't keep the grin off my face. It is everything I wanted this sport to be."

XC skier Kikkan Randall on a roll

Three years ago, Kikkan Randall won her first World Cup race. This was when many around the world could hardly imagine an American winning a World Cup event in cross-country skiing, and for good reason. An American hadn't done much of note since Bill Koch, and that went way back to the early 1980s. So Randall winning -- that was a really, really big deal. Randall won again this past weekend.

The reality is that Randall, 28, of Anchorage, Alaska, is now good enough that she's capable of winning anytime she lines it up. She's consistent enough that her weekend victory shot her to the top of the World Cup sprints points standings.

Perhaps the most profound sign of such progress is the way she talks about it all. She said Monday on the telephone, matter-of-factly, "For me, it has been a steady progression."



Cross-country skiing is, like biathlon and Nordic combined, one of those endeavors that takes time, funding and faith to get results.

At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, it all came together for the Nordic combined program. Fourteen years after the decision to go all-in, the U.S. won four Olympic medals.

The biathlon program didn't win any medals in Vancouver -- but all signs are pointing in the right direction. For a time last season, Tim Burke wore the yellow jersey emblematic of the tour's points leader. This year, Susan Dunklee has steadily been moving along in the standings.

Similarly, the U.S. cross-country ski team didn't win any Vancouver medals.

But -- Vancouver was hardly a failure for the program or for Kikkan Randall.

The 2010 Games were her third.

In Salt Lake City, her first Games, she finished 44th in the sprint. In Torino, ninth. In Vancouver, eighth.

Then again, by way of explanation, the 2010 Olympic sprint used the classical style of cross-country skiing; Randall's best results have come using the freestyle, or skate, form.

So to finish eighth -- that was, as Kikkan put it, "an incredible breakthrough."

During the 2009 season, she took silver in the freestyle sprint race at the world championships.

Before this past weekend she already had been on the podium twice this season. Then, back in Liberec, the Czech Republic, on the same course where she won the 2009 world championships silver, she held off Hanna Falk of Sweden and Celine Brun-Lie of Norway for the win.

During that 2009 race, it snowed. This past weekend, it rained and they had to salt the course.

In 2009, Randall's strategy was to lead from the front. This time around, she said she sat back just a little bit.

This is how an experienced pro does it -- in different conditions and with different strategies.

The difference, of course, is that now we are talking about an American.

It takes a long time to get there. But Americans can get there, too.

"This is something I had in the back of my mind 10 years ago when I seriously committed to being a full-time ski racer," she said. "I just had this feeling I could do it. It was just an inkling. To now be 10 years forward and be in this position, it's incredible. It literally is the realization of a dream."