People are talking
about what a great Christmas present it is for Remsen's Erin Hamlin. Last
week she made the U.S. Olympic luge team.
An Olympian from Oneida County. Wow!
This doesn't happen very often. In fact, the last Oneida County Winter
Olympian who I know about was Val Bialas, a speed skater. I will tell you
about him in a second.
Hamlin, 19, a 2004 graduate of Remsen Central School, where she was on the
varsity track and soccer teams, is more than just an athlete. While at
Remsen she was a member of the National Honor Society, on the yearbook staff
and a reporter for the school newspaper. The Observer-Dispatch was impressed
enough to name her a "Teen All Star."
Erin, the daughter of Eilleen and Ron Hamlin, will be coming down a mountain
on her sled at Torino, Italy for the XX Olympic Winter Games, Feb. 10-26th.
The world will be watching, especially people living in this part of the
We will be rooting on one of our own, just as people in Oneida County did in
1924 when Utica's own Val Bialas went to the French Alps. Bialis won a
bronze medal in the 5,000 meters and finished eighth in the 10,000 meters.
The team finished third.
In 1928, Bialas went to the Olympics again, this time in St. Moritz,
Switzerland, and was named team captain. He came in sixth in both of his
races and the team again took the bronze.
In 1932, Bialas competed at the Olympics again, this time in Lake Placid. He
finished fifth in the 10,000 meters.
Bialas was also a great tennis player and won numerous tournaments and was
Utica's champion five times.
But the thing that impresses me the most about Val Bialas is not his world
records or trophies. It's this: He was in an automobile accident in 1935.
His leg was crushed and had to be amputated. His Olympic career, of course,
was over. The accident made headlines in newspapers all over the country.
Bialas battled back, though. Within a year he was skating again. He sent a
note to Len Wilbur, sports editor of the Observer-Dispatch. "If anyone is
interested in taking up speed skating," Bialas wrote, ""I would gladly help
to start them off."
And he did. And he gave skating exhibitions. And he started playing tennis
Bialis died at age 61. Cancer.
And now - after all these years - we have someone else from Oneida County
going to the Winter Olympics. Erin Hamlin is going, and we're going to root
just as hard as Oneida County residents did way back when for another
Let me correct something I wrote in the first paragraph of this column. Now
that I think about it, this is not "a great Christmas present" for Erin
Hamlin. Presents are given. Erin Hamlin wasn't given anything. She has
worked harder than any of us will ever know to get to the Olympics.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and