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Olympians Among Honorees At Greenwich Dinner

GREENWICH, Conn. – Olympians from Darien, New Canaan, Fairfield and Greenwich were among the guests of honor Monday at the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame dinner at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich.

Darien’s Rob Crane, New Canaan’s Charlie Cole and Fairfield’s Craig Kinsley were honored as the Sports Persons of the Year for their respective communities. Greenwich’s Sue Merz, who won two medals for the U.S. Women’s Hockey team, including gold in 1998, was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The Summer Olympics ended in August, but the memories will linger for a lifetime for Crane, who competed in sailing in the laser division.

“You don’t know what to expect,’’ Crane said. “It’s a very surreal experience. Going into it, you can get a sense by talking to some people who have been there before about what it’s going to be like. But you really don’t know. Every person reacts differently to the whole atmosphere. Regardless of who you are, it’s an awesome experience.”

Crane said he will not try to return to Olympic competition.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of financial gain associated with it,’’ he said. “It’s very hard to justify.”

He returned to Darien and is keeping his hand in the sport with coaching while seeking full-time employment.

“Once I got home, it has been a strange change. I’ve been focusing on this since I graduated from college three years ago,’’ Crane said. “I’ve been doing this full time, just like a professional athlete would. All of sudden you’re at the end.  There’s that big goal focused towards accomplishing.”

Cole, who won a bronze medal in rowing, was unable to attend the dinner. Yan Vengerovskiy of the Maritime Rowing Club, Cole’s first coach, accepted the award on his behalf.

Merz received a warm reception when she was inducted into the Jackie Robinson Professional Wing. She won a gold medal in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake.

“I’ve been part of this foundation for some time and have watched wonderful athletes get inducted into the Hall of Fame,’’ Merz said. “I’m excited to be included among those great athletes.”

Bridgeport’s Wes Matthews, Stratford’s Ed Finnegan and Jim Penders, Trumbull’s Harold Jensen and Monroe’s Dave Strong were also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sacred Heart football coach Paul Gorham was named the winner of the Chelsea Cohen Courage Award.

Other Sports Persons of the Year included John Distler for Easton, the boys lacrosse coach at Joel Barlow; the Greenwich High School boys and girls golf teams; Norwalk’s Bryan Daniello; Stamford’s Dan Madwed; Weston’s Sibyl Ledwick; Wilton’s Chelsea Levander and the boys indoor and outdoor track teams from Staples High School in Westport.

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