Winter Goodwill Games Underway

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Lake Placid, NY Feb. 17 (AP by John Kekis)--It has been nearly 20 years since Mike Eruzione rocked the Olympic Ice Arena with his game-winning goal against the Russians in the 1980 Winter Olympics. On Wednesday night, the old place rocked again on the eve of the inaugural Winter Goodwill Games.

With about 6,000 attending the opening ceremony at the historic rink, Bruce Hornsby, Edwin McCain and the Crane School of Music Symphony Orchestra and Chorus paid a musical tribute to the theme of the games: ``The Power of Sports.''

The Winter Goodwill Games, to be staged over the next four days, were being hailed as the biggest event here since the Winter Olympics that made Eruzione and speedskater Eric Heiden household names. With the newest bobsled-luge-skeleton track in the world ready for its first competition, the village remained hopeful of a return to prominence as an important winter sports host.

``I can't help but feel a tremendous sense of pride,'' New York Gov. George Pataki said in opening remarks. ``Once again, the eyes of the world are centered on Lake Placid.''

The festivities also included a tribute to Sarajevo, the war-torn city that played host to the 1984 Winter Olympics and was hoping to stage the second Winter Goodwill Games in 2003.

``Lake Placid and Sarajevo share a history of Olympic cities,'' said Muhamed Sacirbey, ambassador to the United Nations for Bosnia and Herzegovina. ``But unfortunately, our paths diverged. Sports and national competition provide hope and also mean an opportunity to rebuild our cities.''

Despite the glee of the evening, snow, of all things, threatened to create a little havoc for the games. Nearly 2 feet has slammed the area around this picturesque Adirondack Mountain village since Monday.

The snow and bank after bank of low-hanging clouds forced officials to cancel downhill training on Wednesday for the second straight day because of poor visibility. Only one training run was slated for Thursday morning before the first race.

``We kept saying in November and December, when we were begging for it, where is it, where's the snow?'' said Sandy Caligiore, media relations director for the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which operates the winter sports venues in the region. ``Then we said, `We know when it's coming.' And sure enough, that's when it came.''

Competition also will be held in luge, skeleton, bobsled, figure skating, short track speedskating, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and freestyle skiing.

More snow was predicted for Friday and Saturday, and there was no room to push back the downhill races, which carry the top first-place prize of $20,000.

Having played host to two Winter Olympics, Lake Placid was ready for whatever Mother Nature had in store.

``There are contingency plans,'' ORDA president Ted Blazer said. ``We're in the business of putting on world events, and we will make it happen.''

More than 100 workers _ and a few athletes _ were busy carting snow off the skiing and snowboard venues at Whiteface Mountain. Crews also were busy sweeping off and grooming the new track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

``The snow has affected practicing,'' said snowboarder Rob Kingwill, who also had to cope with the brief loss of the U.S. team's equipment on the way here from Lake Tahoe. ``But we're pretty excited to be here.''

Blazer said more than 40,000 tickets had been sold as of Wednesday. Figure skating, which will feature such former Olympic stars as Nancy Kerrigan, Katarina Witt, Dorothy Hamill, Oksana Baiul and Victor Petrenko, was commanding the most attention. Saturday night's finals already were close to a sellout, but organizers were hoping for strong walkup sales for all events.

The winter games, which also are scheduled to be staged in 2003, 2005 and 2007 by Turner Sports, are an extension of the Summer Gooddwill Games created in 1986 by Ted Turner. The 450 athletes here will be competing for more than $647,000 in prize money. Proceeds will be donated to charity.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press