Vail’s Merv Lapin heading to Beijing Winter Olympics
Longtime local is the ‘Team Leader’ for US Women’s Olympic hockey team
Merv Lapin has traveled the world in the name of hockey. His next trip will be a little different.
Lapin, a longtime Vail resident, is headed to Beijing as “Team Leader” for Team USA’s women’s Olympic hockey team. Given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Lapin is in a select group of people who can actually travel to China for the games.
None of the usual VIPs will be allowed into the country for the games, and athletes and their coaches, trainers and a few staff members will be confined to one of three athlete villages. People in ice events will be able to attend only those events. So hockey players, speed skaters and others won’t be able to attend ski races, and vice versa.
All the events and planning are being run on a tightly compressed schedule.
Lapin said in a normal year, planners would have traveled to the host country in the March or April of the year before the games to set up sightseeing trips, medical care and other events and necessities for the team.
This is far from Lapin’s first trip to China. A news release from USA Hockey states Lapin has been to the country more than 50 times since 1977. He worked in Jilin, China in 1988, 1989 and 1992, coaching and helping to establish youth hockey programs in northeast China. Lapin in 1992 brought 25 players and coaches from Jilin to play in the Vail International Hockey Tournament.
Lapin, along with Joe Peplinski and Eric Eves, started the Vail tournament. The Vail Junior Hockey Club also took local teams every three years to China or Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Poland. More than 1,000 local players participated in those trips.
This won’t be Lapin’s first trip with an Olympic team, either, but it’s always “exciting” to go, he said. But given the political and public health issues surrounding the Beijing games, this trip will be different. And, he added, the political element to the games — something that seems to come more often than not since the 1936 Berlin games — is unfortunate.
“All people are created equal,” Lapin said. “No country is better because they produce better or worse athletes.” Politicizing the games doesn’t speak well of governments, he added, but does speak to “athletes overcoming a lot of adversity.”
Lapin’s selection as team leader for this trip was an easy pick.
Tamara Tranter, the chief development officer for the USA Hockey’s women’s team, said Lapin was picked for his longtime support of the team financially, as well as his advocacy and deep understanding of China.
“His knowledge is crucial,” Tranter said. Lapin’s leadership and connections with team alumni are also essential, Tranter said.
The fact Lapin is traveling with the team this year is “unheard of,” Tranter added. That’s an honor usually reserved for the organization’s president, vice president and executive director. Tranter noted that she’ll stay in the U.S. during the Beijing games.
As the team goes for its second consecutive gold medal and third overall — the team has finished on the podium all six times it has competed in the Olympics — Tranter said she like the Americans’ odds, especially if “we have Merv on our team.”