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Olympians auctioning gear to support Empire State Games

Haley Johnson, who competed with the U.S. Biathlon Team at the Vancouver Olympics last year, said she was relieved to hear the Empire States Games would be continued.

Johnson, a native of Lake Placid, competed in the games as a youngster - although her first appearance was not as a biathlete, but in downhill skiing.

"It's something I moved away from a little bit since I've been traveling and been on the national team," she said. "But I'm super psyched that it's coming back and it's staying - and that the communities have all come together to form a coalition to keep the Empire State Games going."

"For me, growing up, it was one more race," Johnson added. "As a developing athlete, one more race and every experience and opportunity was really important."

Andrew Weibrecht took the bronze medal in the Super G in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He said being able to participate in a major event like the Empire State Winter Games was important to his development - and he adds that athletes get to compete on tough, Olympic-caliber courses and at internationally-renowned venues.

"I think to give kids an opportunity to ski on that and basically give it a shot on some of the toughest stuff that you'll find anywhere in the country is really exciting and makes for a pretty cool event," Weibrecht said.

About a decade ago, Kris Cheney-Seymour was a Nordic skiing coach for the New York Ski Education Foundation. Olympians like Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, and Billy Demong crafted their skills under Seymour - who stresses how important it is for these athletes to give back to their communities.

Seymour says events like the Empire State Games are stepping stones for young competitors.

"It really is, for many people, their first big event - and for many of them, it's their only big event," he said. "It builds memories. There's an awful lot of fun and excitement built into it. And for those who continue on in sport, it's one more experience to add to their bag of tricks as they go on to compete internationally."

The online auction is currently up and running and will continue until the end of the Empire State Games at www.empirestatewintergames.com.

The auction features items donated by biathletes Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Haley Johnson, Nordic combined champion Billy Demong, bobsledder John Napier, and alpine skier Andrew Weibrecht.

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