Is it the world capital of athlete representatives? | News, Sports, Jobs

Clare Egan of the United States competes in the women’s 15km individual race at the Biathlon World Cup in Anterselva, Italy, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

LAKE PLACID — Of the roughly 2,900 athletes slated to compete in the impending Winter Olympics, only two have votes on how their sports are run — and both are local: Chris Mazdzer, a luge racer who grew up in Saranac Lake and lived for years in Lake Placid, and Clare Egan, a biathlete who now lives in Lake Placid.

As people watch the Winter Games on TV, few are likely to think about the governing body of each sport – the organization that manages the seasons, sets policies, tries to attract fans and sponsors and is responsible for the general good of the sport. There are seven such federations for Winter Olympic sports: one for biathlon, bobsleigh/skeleton, curling, ice hockey, ice skating (including figure and speed skating), luge and skiing (including all snowboarding and skiing sports).

While each gives athletes a say, only four of those seven allow athletes to elect one of their own to a seat on the voting board. In addition, retired athletes are the current representatives of bobsleigh/skeleton and skiing. That leaves only two active winter competitors with board authority: Egan, with the International Biathlon Union, and Mazdzer, with the International Luge Federation (FIL).

As incredible as it may seem, the Lake Placid connection runs even deeper. Egan’s predecessor on the IBU board was Lowell Bailey, who grew up here and still lives here. Additionally, one of the two athlete representatives on the International Ski Federation (FIS) board of directors is Hannah Kearney, a Vermonter who was living and training in Lake Placid when she became the 2010 Olympic champion in skiing. acrobatic bumps.

These are elective offices. In these sports, all athletes from all nations of the world have chosen to be represented by people with roots in the Lake Placid area.

This is all the more remarkable given that biathlon and luge are so overwhelmingly dominated by Europe. It’s almost as if the players of the NFL and the NBA have chosen Britons from the same small English town as their union representatives.

“It’s quite special” said Max Cobb, longtime president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon, who also holds a voting seat on the IBU board.

What is it about Lake Placid that produces such public servants in the sports world? Neither Mazdzer nor Egan bet a guess when interviewed recently, but Cobb gave it a shot. He said that Lake Placid is rightly called the “Winter Sports Capital of the World.”

“I’ve traveled to many places and I don’t know of a single community that offers all winter sports – and they are visible”, he said. “As an athlete living the 24/7 lifestyle, being a Lake Placid resident makes a lot of sense.”

Cobb, Mazdzer and Egan all said American athletes are more likely to take on leadership roles than Europeans. Cobb, who has worked for U.S. biathlon since 1989 and competed before that, said U.S. sports organizations have a long tradition of athlete representation dating back to at least the 1970s.

“Because of that, I think our athletes are well equipped to express themselves, and I think their peers recognize that,” he said.

“I feel like the United States is usually a step or two ahead when it comes to, ‘Guys, we should really be concerned about concussions; we should consider safe sport,” said Mazdzer, 33, a fourth Olympian who now lives in Salt Lake City. He speculated that Americans might be more politically aware because “We have a lot of lawyers.”

“Americans, in my experience, we enjoy talking and talking,” said Egan, a 34-year-old Maine native who has lived in Lake Placid since 2015. “It’s like a uniquely American cultural thing.”

She was elected as the IBU Athlete Representative in 2018, and in her first board meetings, she said, she was the only woman speaking — or maybe she and a Canadian.

She noted that European biathletes are superstars and fame can make them cautious about what they say. Hardly anyone in her home country knows who she is, and that’s liberating.

“It won’t make the headlines if I say my organization was corrupt,” she said.

And she says that.

“We have gone from a very corrupt organization to a non-corrupt organization over the past four years, thanks to a police raid in 2018 that kind of ousted the old leadership,” said Egan.

She was referring to former IBU president Anders Besseberg and ex-general secretary Nicole Resch, who resigned after being accused of accepting bribes to defend Russian biathletes against charges. of doping.

“We are lucky to have had this police raid”, said Egan. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the organization. Some other organizations are still waiting for theirs.

Mazdzer said that FIL has also made progress recently, compared to German-centric traditionalism “to be more international and open.” FIL’s new president is only the third in its 65-year history. Bert Isatich from Austria led the luge federation from its founding in 1957 until his death in 1994, and Josef Fendt from Germany took over until 2020.

“So not much has changed” said Mazzer. “Super nice, very good at keeping the sport exactly as it was.”

Sledding is not the only one in this case. For skiing, the FIS had only its fifth president last year since its founding in 1924.

Mazdzer was elected to head the FIL Athletes’ Council in 2013 and secured a seat on the Board of Directors in 2015.

“Just getting the feedback from the athletes has been nice,” he said. “When I got into this, the athletes weren’t really involved in the organization other than one meeting a year, and now we have athletes who attend, I would say, most of the meetings.”

He likes that FIL’s new strategic plan focuses on digital media to help more people see the sport.

“It was becoming obsolete, relying entirely on (European) cable TV to basically support what we do,” said Mazzer.

Part of Egan’s job is to communicate decisions regarding COVID-19. She is one of four members of the IBU’s Events Task Force.

“We make all the very high-level decisions, like, ‘OK, do we need to cancel an event? Do we need to change a protocol for an event?’ she said.

Egan and Mazdzer are very social which makes them well suited to be reps. It also helps that Egan speaks six languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and most recently Russian. But the pandemic has limited social opportunities, making their jobs less fun. Egan says biathletes “We used to often stay in big hotels all together, and we all ate together in a big room, and we all mingled at different tables even – or I did, at least. I liked going to sit with different teams.

Mazdzer is thinking about retirement and hopes that other lugers will get involved.

“At the end of the day, I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Cool. I worked really hard for this, and it’s great that this happened’” he said. “The problem is if you do too good a job then people are like, ‘Chris, do it’ and I’m like, ‘Guys, I don’t want to be in these meetings. I’m leaving soon. I want other people on these commissions, you know? “No, no, no, no, we trust you.” And I’m like, ‘Don’t trust me! people there.

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