LEWISTON, Maine — WATCH LIVE:
7 a.m. EST: Closing Ceremony
8 p.m. EST: NBC Primetime (Closing Ceremony)
When Team USA's athletes walked across the state in the Closing Ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, they were wearing snow boots handmade in Maine.
Rancourt & Co. in Lewiston has made the footwear for Team USA for three Olympic cycles. Polo Ralph Lauren asked the Maine company to make shoes.
In 2016, they made a red, white, and blue boat shoe; in 2020, they made a canvas sneaker; now in 2022, the snow boot was the first, and the most technical product they have made.
"It's skilled labor. I don't think people understand how much skill it takes to do some of this stuff," said Cathy Wilbur, a shoemaker from Jay who has worked at Rancourt for more than 25 years.
Wilbur has worked on all three designs, making them by hand.
"At first it was like, 'Wow,' and now it's like, 'Oh, I guess we're the go-to company,' and it gets harder and harder the designs they come up with — it's like, 'Oh my God!' So I'm amazed when we figure it out and actually make them. So proud of that," Wilbur said.
"Technically speaking it's the most demanding boot we've ever made. Bar none," Rancourt & Co. owner Mike Rancourt said. "How many people can say we supply or furnish footwear to the Olympic team not only once, but three times now?"
He said the boots, both a red and a white pair, take 33 pieces to complete, compared to 15 pieces that comprise most of Rancourt's products.
"I feel proud about every pair I make. You know, my hands touched that," said Mike Oliver, who lives outside of Farmington. He has worked for Rancourt for about 10 years. "Not everybody can say they participate in making something for the Olympics."
Included on the Rancourt team are immigrants who are becoming the new generation of Maine shoemakers, carrying on the state's tradition forged by staff like Wilbur, Oliver, and dozens of others at Rancourt.
"I think it's really important that we embrace this immigrant population that's locating to Lewiston-Auburn. I think it's important for the future, important for our community. If we're going to succeed as a community, we need a new workforce," said Rancourt. "It was so amazing to watch. I'm very proud of what they're doing, and also very proud that we're representing Maine in this way."
Despite making the footwear for the third time, this boot is a new challenge, one these Mainers are honored to craft.
"I feel honored to have done something to represent America in the Olympics. I certainly am not going to be doing any skiing or anything like that," Wilbur said.