Friday, February 13, 2009

Winter Games warmed up the valley

Franti concert, parties provide sendoff

Express Staff Writer

A father and daughter enjoy the open skate period, following an exhibition by area skaters, on Wednesday night during the festival in Sun Valley. Photo by David N. Seelig

The long-awaited, highly promoted Special Olympics 2009 World Winter Games end today with a closing ceremony at the Idaho Center in Nampa after four days of competition in Sun Valley and other venues in the state. On Wednesday night, the 2009 Special Olympics Festival was held in Sun Valley attended by nearly every athlete and delegation, visitors, families, hordes of happy, blue-jacketed volunteers and well-wishers bedecked with fun hats.

Among the hat wearers was Marcus "Madhatter" Mann of Michigan who towered over the crowds in a top hat covered in 2009 World Winter Games buttons. Though he was unable to say how many were actually pinned to his tall chapeau, he said every one was acquired during these World Games through trades.

Mann is the coach of snowboarder Charles Howard, a freshman at Oakland Community College in Michigan. On Monday, Howard won silver in a snowboarding event on Dollar Mountain. Just as much a thrill for him, however, was being chosen to light the cauldron from the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies in Nampa, surrounded by more than 2,000 fellow athletes.

The most happening place to be on Wednesday night was inside the Sun Valley Lodge lobby, which was packed with people trying to warm up after a fireworks display and Dollar Mountain torchlight parade. Across the village, at the Sun Valley Inn, the Lobby Lounge was also jam packed, as just outside on the deck, the Forestry Fiddlers entertained hearty souls huddled around fire pits, and Smokey the Bear danced with passers-by.

Inside the Lobby Lounge, Sun Valley Assistant General Manager Claude Guigon beamed as he watched people streaming in.

"Everything is perfect," he said. "I'm going to give the band outside some anti-freeze. But it's good to see so many people here."

Athletes, who stuck closely together in their delegations, were attired in colorful team jackets and sported medals around their necks.

A member of Team USA, Theresa Rose McLachlan of LaSalle, Ill., proudly sported a silver medal that she'd scooped up in the 50-meter cross-country race at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. She said her favorite thing was winning a medal but added that "winning is good but that just participating is very good."

World Winter Games CEO Chip Fisher wandered along the side of the skating rink greeting people during the ice skating exhibition.

"It's going well," he said. "I haven't heard any complaints yet."

Maybe not in Sun Valley, but in Boise on Thursday, there were a few glitches.

Vice President Joe Biden was to attend the final round of the pairs figure skating at Qwest Arena, and then present medals, but his plane was delayed two hours due to weather. After the figure skating he attended the "Healthy Athletes" program at Boise State University.

Among those traveling with Biden were Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as U.S. Programs for Save the Children Managing Director Mark Kennedy Shriver and assistant to the President Lisa Brown.

Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in 1968, and his brother, Tim Shriver, is now chairman of the board.

Olympic figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Scott Hamilton, who was the emcee at the Sun Valley Special Olympics Festival on Wednesday, also joined Biden on Thursday.

Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, was unable to join the vice president on his trip due to work obligations in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, it was announced that the Idaho Lottery donated $7,539.50 to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games from 5,300 people who purchased tickets and then donated their winnings back to the games.

One of the favorite stories circulating in Sun Valley this week was that of 53-year-old twin brothers from Germany who hadn't seen each other in three years. Albert Kirchmayr lives in Maryland, and Willi Kirchmayr, a cross-country skier still living in Germany, was in town to compete. They were reunited at the finish line surrounded by fans.

There were many other stories—people given rides and rooms, meals prepared and served by families and students, art projects created and friendships made.

Some 100 countries were represented during the nearly weeklong event. Team USA alone had more than 300 athletes participating in the games.

Along with the better-known countries represented were delegations from such counties as Andorra, Cyprus, Tajikistan, Macedonia, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Bahrain, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Iran, Jordan, Qatar, Mauritania and Yemen.

Dana DuGan:

Special Olympics provides energy, economic bump

Long faces about the global economic crisis have been replaced by smiles, at least in the Wood River Valley, where the Special Olympics has been nothing short of uplifting, both spiritually and economically.

"The whole community has really gotten into the spirit of the games," said Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. "There's been so much volunteer support for all of the events and activities."

Waller said that while the economic impact figures have yet to be calculated, the hundreds of visiting athletes, delegates and volunteers definitely brought an influx of spending.

"The community also got wonderful international exposure from media outlets from around the world," she said.

Waller said the chamber will send a survey to local businesses at the end of the week and would likely have a better idea of how the valley made out economically by next Thursday.

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