Led by a gang of speed skaters that graduated from the Saratoga Winter Club, Saratoga County has had a remarkably long connection to the Winter Olympics. During the past 60 years, 14 athletes and the renowned skating coach Pat Maxwell of Ballston Spa have represented the United States in Olympic competition on snow and ice. There has been at least one athlete from the Saratoga region on each of the seven American teams between 1988 and 2010.
However, that Saratoga tradition will be interrupted at the 2014 Olympics in February at Sochi, Russia. Five Winter Club skaters participated in the U.S. trials held just after Christmas but were unable to secure a berth on the team.
Saratoga’s link to the Olympics began with bobsledding when Maurice “Dick” Severino was a member of a four-man team in 1952. Athletes have qualified for the U.S. team in biathlon, cross country skiing and women’s ice hockey, but the nine speed skaters dominate the list. Sixteen years after Severino’s adventure in Oslo, Saratoga’s distinguished skating program produced its first Olympians: the Wurster brothers from Ballston Spa, Richie and John, who competed at Grenoble, France in 1968. John Wurster also earned a berth on the 1972 team.
The phalanx of skaters developed by Maxwell began to emerge in 1988 and— during the ensuing five Games—Kristen Talbot, Moira D’Andrea, Amy Peterson, David Tamburrino and Erin Porter all made at least two trips to the Olympics. Saratoga did not produce a speed skater for the 2006 team, but Trevor Marsicano of Ballston Spa earned a berth on the 2010 team and came home from Vancouver with a silver medal.
Saratoga Springs has been known for horse racing for 150 years, but speed skating—another sport about going fast around an oval—has been part of the local culture just as long. Historians have found that rinks were open in the city by the middle of the 19th century and skating competitions were part of the annual winter carnivals. Beginning in 1931, the city played host to the Eastern States Championships for about 50 years. A record 344 skaters participated in 1961.
In the 1920s, the Saratogian was reporting the exploits of teenage skater Eugene “Bud” Lynch and other skilled athletes from the high school team. Lynch went on to be a standout in hockey and speed skating while a student at the University of Southern California, but fell short of the qualifying times for the U.S. skating team for the 1932 Olympics at Lake Placid.
The Saratoga Toboggan Club was formed in 1888 and later was known as the Saratoga Winter Sports Club. In 1930 the name was changed to the Saratoga Winter Club and it has had a skating program throughout its 84 years. Lynch, who had a long career as an attorney in Saratoga Springs, spent time as the club’s coach.
“People from the summer used to ask, ‘What do you do here in the winter time?’ because they couldn’t figure out if we had anything to do here,” says Erin Porter’s father, Tom, a Saratoga native and former Winter Club president who guided state, regional and national skating organizations for many years. “Speed skating was a big part of the winter activity here and it has continued that way.”
Among the early standouts were Lynch, Vern Green and Jack Kearney. Green, active in skating throughout his life, managed the city school district’s recreation fields, was well known as a competitor and coach and as the icemaker for Saratoga’s rinks. His daughter, Mickey, was a top-level competitor who fell short of qualifying for the 1968 Olympic team. Twenty years later, Mickey Green Talbot’s daughter, Kristen, earned a berth on the U.S. long track team that skated at Calgary.
The Wurster brothers, who still live in the Ballston Spa area, joined the Winter Club when it loosened the rules that restricted membership to city residents. At Grenoble, John finished in a tie for fifth in the star-studded 500-meter event. Three of the four skaters who finished ahead of him earned gold medals in the event during their careers. He also was on the 1972 team, but lost all chance in the 500 due to a problem at the start. Richie was the U.S. all-around champion three times and the runner-up twice. He was 19th in the 1,500 meters in the Olympics.
Kristen Talbot of Schuylerville was a member of the group that Maxwell developed during his long run as the coach of the Winter Club from 1976 through 2002. Maxwell was so well-regarded as a teacher, technician and mentor, especially in short track speed skating, that top young athletes like Peterson relocated to the region to train with him. Maxwell grew up in Rochester and became friends with the Saratoga skaters he competed against. Speaking at the induction of John and Richie Wurster into the Ballston Spa High School Hall of Fame, Maxwell said he came to visit John Wurster for two weeks 40 years ago and stayed. Maxwell is the deputy commissioner of Saratoga County’s Department of Social Services. He was the head coach of the 1988 short track team and an assistant coach in the next four Olympics.
Tamburrino, a homegrown talent who began skating with the Winter Club as a five-year-old, says there is no question why so many Saratoga skaters were successful. “You have to look for the common denominator there and it’s pretty obvious who that is, it’s Pat,” he says. “Even my dad refers to Pat as my second father. He would take so much time out of his life.”
Tom Porter says that the Winter Club skaters have benefitted by having a number of strong coaches, a list that includes Green, Lynch, John Wurster and Maxwell.
Moira D’Andrea and Kristen Talbot competed in Calgary in 1988. Talbot, 17, was on the long track team and finished 25th in the 500 meters. Her top Olympic finish was 17th in the 500 in 1992, and she finished in a tie for 20th in 1994. Just a month before the 1994 Olympics, Talbot donated bone marrow to her brother Jason, who was battling the life-threatening blood disorder aplastic anemia. He recovered from the illness. Talbot married Neil Peck in 2005, lives in Northumberland and is a physical therapist in Gloversville.
At 19, D’Andrea skated for Maxwell’s short track team in 1988 when it was considered a demonstration sport. An age-group national champion many times in her distinguished career, D’Andrea competed in long track skating at two other Olympic Games. At Albertville in 1992, she finished 32nd in the 1,000 meters. The Saratoga Springs native was severely injured when her bicycle was struck by a car in May 1996, but was back on the team as a 29-year-old in 1998. At Nagano, D’Andrea was 19th in the 500 meters, ninth in the 1,000 meters and 14th in the 1,500 meters. D’Andrea retired after the 1998 Olympics and moved to Calgary to enroll in a coaching program. In 1992, she married Mike Marshall and the couple spent time as coaches for the Canadian national team. The mother of three young children, she is still active in the sport and is the development coach for the Calgary Speed Skating Association.
Erin Porter followed her siblings into the Winter Club’s skating program and made the 1998 and 2002 Olympic short track teams. Her best finishes were with the 3,000-meter relay teams that were fifth in Nagano and seventh at Salt Lake City. She was the runner-up in the world junior short track championships in 1996 and the national champion in 1997. Porter earned a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Washington in 2013 and lives with her husband and two children in Seattle.
Peterson, who was born and raised in Minnesota, participated in five Olympics and narrowly missed qualifying for the 2006 team. In 2002 at Salt Lake City she was selected to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony. She was D’Andrea’s teammate on the 1988 demonstration short track team and earned a silver and two bronze when short track was elevated to a medal sport. The silver came in 1992 as a member of the 3,000-meter relay team. In 1994 at Lillehammer,
Peterson was third in the 500 meters and a member of the third-place 3,000-meter relay team.
After the 1994 Olympics she developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which compromised her training. Peterson lived in Ballston Spa from 1997 through the 2002 Olympics and followed a training and competitive program developed by Maxwell that enabled her to qualify for two more Olympics. Peterson and Kristen Talbot are sisters-in-law and neighbors in Northumberland. In 2005, Peterson was in Talbot’s wedding to Neil Peck. Thirteen months later she married Peck’s older brother, Bill, currently the town supervisor. The couple has four children and their two older sons are Winter Club skaters.
Heeding Maxwell’s advice, Tamburrino moved out of the area to focus on long track skating after graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in 1990. The distance specialist enrolled at Marquette University in Milwaukee and was able to train at the facilities used by the national team. He just missed qualifying for the 1992 Olympics but made the teams in 1994 and 1998. His best results were 16th place finishes in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events in 1998.
Tamburrino completed work on his undergraduate degree and spent some time coaching skaters. He worked in corporate advertising sales for the Milwaukee Brewers for several years. Married and the father of three children, he works full-time in corporate development at Marquette while attending the university’s law school as a part-time student.
Paul Marchese succeeded Maxwell as the Winter Club coach in 2002 and helped Marsicano blossom into an international-caliber long track skater. Marsicano turned in a breakthrough performance with four medals at the 2009 world single distance championships, topped by a gold in the 1,000 meters. His Olympic medal came as a member of the men’s team pursuit.
Marchese an international coach and noted skate maker, is teaching another generation of Winter Club athletes at the Wiebel Avenue ice rink. Helping to guide that next wave of aspiring Olympians are two knowledgeable assistants: Maxwell and Peterson.
LEADING THE WAY ON A BOBSLED
Dick Severino was a push athlete on the USA II team that finished ninth in the four-man competition in 1952 at Oslo, Norway. He was an active competitor in the sport in major national and international events, including six appearances in the world championships, through the 1950s and into the 1960s while living in Europe and Beirut, Lebanon.
The Olympic sled, driven by veteran Jim Bickford of Saranac Lake, flew out of the track during a training run, and Bickford and Robert Scott of Au Sable Forks suffered shoulder injuries. Equipment issues plagued the team during the first two of the four-run competition. In both of the trips down the course, the metal foot stirrups that Bickford used to brace himself broke, affecting his ability to pilot the sled.
In a lengthy 1960 article in the Saratogian, Severino said his first connection to bobsledding came during the winter of 1951 in Lake Placid when he was working for a public relations firm and writing some articles for the New York Herald Tribune. Severino said he took a ride down the course at Mount Van Hoevenberg and liked the experience so much that he wanted to learn more and compete. He passed his driver’s test and was recruited by Bickford for his team, which qualified for the Olympics.
Severino’s father, also named Maurice, was the manager of the Albany regional office of Mack Trucks. The Severino family moved to Saratoga Springs in 1929 when Dick was about 10 years old. He had a career in the military, worked for Mack Trucks in Europe and the Middle East, moved into marketing and public relations and later in life became a well-known golf writer and photographer. He died in 2005 during a visit to his hometown.
A number of other Capital Region bobsled athletes have competed in the Olympics through the years. Max Bly Sr. and Dick Lawrence of Lake George were members of the four-man team that finished sixth in 1936. Ed Rimkus of Schenectady was on the gold medal-winning team in 1948. Rimkus, a former football player at St. Lawrence University, was recruited into the sport and slid for parts of two seasons.
One of Severino’s teammates in 1952 was Floyd “Hank” Wisher of Au Sable Forks, who was a coach for many years at Niskayuna High School. At Grenoble in
1968, pilot Howard Clifton of Elnora and brakeman Mickey Luce of Saranac Lake finished 11th. Luce, a longtime resident of Glens Falls, was a teacher in the Lake George district for 35 years. Clifton and Luce were push athletes on Bill Hickey’s four-man sled that was 15th.
In 1992, push athlete Todd Snavely of Ballston Lake was in the middle of a controversy when he was on the USA I sled driven by Chuck Leonowicz, a Scotia native who lived in Clifton Park. The selection process was challenged in court by hurdler Edwin Moses and NFL players Willie Gault and Greg Harrell. New push trials were conducted four weeks before the Olympics, and Snavely failed to hold onto his spot on the team. Leonowicz, whose sled was 11th, died in 2000 at the age of 42.
In 2010 at Vancouver, Schenectady native John Napier piloted the USA II sleds in the two-man and four-man competitions. He was 10th in the two-man but crashed in the four-man.
PERSEVERANCE PAID OFF FOR KAUTH
Kathleen Kauth of Saratoga Springs was a finalist for the 2002 team in Salt Lake City when her father Don was killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Don Kauth had been in Lake Placid a few weeks before 9/11 when his daughter was named as one of the 25 players being considered for the 20 roster spots. After the 9/11 tragedy, she stayed with the national team through the fall series of training and games but was cut in early December.
In the summer of 2002, the former Brown University standout decided to resume her playing career. While attending graduate school at Boston University, she took early morning power skating lessons and participated in co-ed pickup games. Kauth went to Canada to play in a women’s pro league for the Brampton, Ontario team, and was named to the U.S. national team in 2003. She blew out a knee playing touch football in 2004, but recovered from surgery and rehab in time to return to the national team program in 2005 and earned a berth on the 2006 Olympic team.
The American team ended up with a bronze medal after it was upset in the semifinals by Sweden, which won 3–2 in a shootout. Kauth continued her education at the University of California Berkeley and works for an energy company in Toronto.
SCHREINER: STRAIGHT-SHOOTER WENT THE DISTANCE
Curtis Schreiner qualified for three trips to the Olympics in biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and marksmanship with a .22 caliber rifle. Biathlon is a very popular sport in Europe, but it remains in obscurity in the U.S.
The Schreiner family discovered biathlon at the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid. They developed a course on their 175-acre property in the town of Day about 24 miles northwest of Saratoga Springs and formed the Saratoga Biathlon Club. His older brother, Jim, became a national team kayak racer, while Curtis emerged as a top young American in biathlon. He made the 1988 Olympic team as a 20-year-old and represented the U.S. in 1992 at Albertville and 1994 in Lillehammer. He was the alternate in 1998 and finished seventh in the trials for the five-man 2002 team. A U.S. champion several times, his best finish in the Olympics was a ninth at Calgary in 1988 in the 4 x 7.5 kilometer team pursuit.
Schreiner spent 24 years in the Army National Guard, including a tour in Iraq, and retired with the rank of major in 2010. He lives in Day with his wife and three children and is a director of the Saratoga Biathlon Club.
FARRA’S LIFE OF SKIING
John Farra grew up on skis at the Farra Family Ski Touring Center operated by his parents at the Saratoga Spa State Park. To further his athletic career, he attended high school at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid and was on the ski team at the University of Utah. He made his international racing debut in 1986 at the age of 16 and climbed the competitive ladder on U.S. teams: the junior world championships in 1990, World Cups in 1990 and 1991 and the Nordic World Championships in 1991. At the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, Farra finished 60th in the 10K and was 49th in the 10/15 Pursuit, which combines the classical and freestyle cross-country skiing styles.
“My special Olympic memory was having my folks and sister at the opening ceremonies sitting just five or six rows behind me,” Farra says. “And dancing with my mother during the closing ceremonies in the middle of the stadium amongst other athletes celebrating the games. I am very proud to have been a part of it.”
Farra retired from competition after the Olympics and resumed his studies. He became the assistant head coach at the National Sports Academy and then served as the vice president of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, Maine. In 2008, he was hired as the Nordic Director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. In 2011, the United States Olympic Committee named Farra as its high performance director of Paralympic Nordic skiing. SL