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  News & Commentary

Empire State Games 2000:
The Binghamton Report
By Elizabeth Renaud, CRCA-Women's Sports & Fitness

This was the second year that I participated in the Empire State Games, the state's answer to the Olympics, held this year in Binghamton from July 27-30. Some 5,000 athletes converge from all parts of the state to participate in sports ranging from baseball to fencing to track. In New York City, about a dozen women were at the qualifier, held June 3 at Prospect Park, but when it came time to send a team to upstate New York, I was the only one who actually went.

Why is that? Good question. Obviously, some people had already decided to go to other events, such as Altoona or masters' road nationals. Other folks couldn't, or wouldn't, take the time off from work. But that's an issue to address at another time. I went with every intention of bringing home a medal for New York City, or at least have a good time trying.

The individual time trial was a flat 10-mile course north of town, starting at Chenango State Park, with mist and rain keeping the roads wet. I arrived with plenty of time to prepare, and got a good warmup on the trainer. I was one of the last women to go off, with riders starting at one-minute intervals.

Once I got going, I had a tough time getting my heart rate up to even 180; I'm not sure why. Fatigue, stress, too much warmup, not enough? Perhaps the flat course didn't work to my advantage, as compared with the rolling course at Fitchburg. I managed to close the distance on my one-minute rider, Janice Sibilia from Hudson Valley, but only to about 30 seconds. I took the turns very cautiously, with two 180-degree turnarounds and a sharp right back into the park. Even before I saw the results, I knew it wasn't a great showing. I was sixth, at 27:28.82, just under a minute from the winning time. The men didn't make a good overall impression, with the fastest time posted by Dave Melchior, seventh at 23:47.03.

As in years past, the two coaches overseeing the NYC team are Bill Montgomery and Karl Steen. These two guys are about as different as you can imagine. Karl is a former Park Slope resident who moved to Woodstock eight years ago and works in a bike shop in New Paltz.

Bill is a dreadlocked Bronx native whom I met on the Gimbel's ride and an actor who can be seen on such TV shows as "Oz" and "Sex and the City." Karl always has his camcorder; Bill always has a pair of little earphones stuck in his ear. Karl is quiet; Bill is a boisterous guy who likes to sit outside the dorms and guess the sports of other athletes walking by. Bill likes to drink Pepsi mixed with milk at mealtimes; Karl says that Pepsi and aspirin is a great recovery drink. They're always very helpful, whether it's having plenty of bottles in the cooler, putting your bike on the wind trainer, or fixing your number on your jersey. They also insist that the teams support each other, which means a lot when you're a team of one.

After the time trial, a few of us (including Eugene Boronow, Dave Melchior, and Bill Montgomery) rode the road race course, a very hilly 14-mile loop that brushed the border with Pennsylvania, with a mile-plus climb before getting to the loop itself. I felt confident about the my chances in the race, having done many hilly races throughout the spring and summer, but it would be tough to stay out of the wind, due to the small size of the women's field, only a dozen (instead of the full complement of 18 - Hudson Valley and Long Island had only two riders, and the Adirondack also had only one rider).

Thankfully, we started on the SUNY campus itself, so it meant no driving at all. Before the race, Shelley Reynolds from the Central team told me that they were going to make a break and that she wanted me to come along. Central scored first, second and fourth in the ITT, so they were obviously strong riders. The race started off slow enough, even after the neutral start ended. The first time up Hogan Road, which had the 1K finishing climb, nobody pushed it. The second time up was when the field shattered. I was in front with two Central riders (Shelley and Carol Waters) and one Western rider (Rosemary Coleman). We started working immediately, that is, everybody except Rosemary. We yelled at her, but she sat in back and said, "I'll ride my own race, thanks." We wanted to get some distance on the rest of the field, and we did, but I probably did too much work early on, with two full laps to go. In the last lap, we let Rosemary get in front and didn't come around her. With three or four miles to go, my right quad cramped up, but I kept quiet, spun my legs, drank the rest of my bottle and it slowly went away. The fourth and final climb up Hogan, Carol and Rosemary surged and I could barely keep moving. Carol won, with Rosemary second, and Shelley third, and I limped in for fourth. Even with our slow pace toward the end, we still came in four minutes ahead of the rest of the riders. In the men's race, Donny Lopez came by himself, almost two minutes ahead of the nearest rider. He took the gold, with Dave in eighth and Eugene in 22nd.

ESG athletes are housed on campus, this year at SUNY Binghamton and other local schools. Since I was solo, I got to enjoy a full suite to myself. However, the real place to experience day-to-day life was outside. Despite the off-and-on rain all weekend, dozens of people congregated outside the dorms. We were amazed at how much energy the younger athletes had. Every day, they'd be scampering to and fro, playing around, and dancing.

In comparison, we cyclists limped around like geezers and napped.

And when we weren't hanging out outside or in Bill and Karl's suite, we were at the dining hall, enjoying the kind of fabulous cuisine that can be found only at a large institution like SUNY. The consensus among longtime ESG participants was that SUNY Binghamton got the worst marks for food quality: overcooked pasta, mushy eggs, tasteless chicken, stale bagels. For days, Eugene talked about his strong hankering for a steak, but ultimately decided to stick with the appetite-challenging, but free option at hand. Goodbye steak, hello Cocoa Puffs.

The criterium was my last race of the weekend. Bill told me that he didn't want me wasting my energy on the TTT on Sunday. What a relief. (The first day I had talked with the sole Adirondack rider, Melissa Smith, about us doing the TTT, just for "fun," but no points; however, she got dropped so early in the road race that it didn't seem like a good idea.) The women rode 25 laps of a pleasant, park-side, 0.8-mile course (the same one used in the Chris Thater race), with a longish power climb after the first turn, much like the Poughkeepsie crit, but half as steep and twice as long. Shelley wanted to make a move to get away, and I promised to help. Unfortunately, nothing got more than a few yards off the front. Laura Kibelsbeck from Hudson Valley took practically all the sprints, with me just getting shut out of the top four. I made one killer jump on the hill, but succeeded only in stringing out the field. In the final sprint, I took fourth, which got me a whole two points, enough to rank me 8th for the stage. In the men's 40-lap race, the pace was furious, and Roosvelt "Pollo" Martes, showing his killer sprinting form, took the first several sprints. Donny, with a few late-race efforts, managed to take the bronze.

I wanted to see some other sports, but never seemed to have enough energy or time to do so. Synchronized swimming sounded great; so did wrestling. Finally, Saturday night, Bill got it into his head that he wanted to watch some women fight. So, he, Eugene, and I rode up a very large hill to Johnson City High School to watch the last matches of open men's and women's boxing. We all proudly wore the orange and blue, to show our regional spirit. To be certain, the New York City fighters kicked butt each and every time. Both Bill and Eugene were extremely enthusiastic (to the point where the judges turned around to see who was making that racket) and made more than enough noise for our entire side of the auditorium.

When I woke up on the last day, it was raining steady, and it never stopped. For the team time trial, the men were to do two laps of a twisting, rolling, 22-mile course, which with the wet roads, would make it a bit sporting. I lent my aero bars and a pair of shorts to Donny Lopez, who doesn't own the former and forgot to bring the latter to the race. Riding with Karl, I was in charge of the camcorder and the bullhorn. The teams were started at two-minute intervals. The A team was Eugene, Leon Moser, Donny, Dave, and Pollo. They soon established a rhythm, and it looked beautiful. The water flying off their wheels looked a bit like water coming out of a whale's blowhole. At the end of the first lap, they caught and decisively passed the group in front of them, the Long Island A team, and left them in the mist. Despite a great ride, they came in only in sixth.

The B team had only three riders (Shawn Lightburn, Chung Chiang, and Mihael Ginghina), as Leo Ventura had a last-minute mechanical that involved more than a wheel change. Even with a flat, they blew past the Long Island B team. Unfortunately, we were unable to manage to close the gap in the overall team ranking, leaving NYC a distant fourth.

Next year: Utica/Rome. See you there!

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