John F. Russell: Johnny’s day
Win on Sunday ends wait for Olympic glory
February 15, 2010
Whistler, British Columbia — Sunday started just like any other rainy day in Whistler, British Columbia.
A steady stream of water fell from the sky in the morning and gathered in pools on the ground. The air was so thick that if you stood in one place for too long you ended up soaked, and a heavy shroud of clouds hid most of the magnificent peaks that surround Whistler Olympic Park.
But make no mistake, this gray day in the mountains of British Columbia was anything but ordinary to Johnny Spillane and the members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team.
Sunday belonged to them.
By mid-morning the rain had stopped, the clouds disappeared and the American athletes were well on their way to making history on the ski jumps and cross-country course at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
It was a day most people in Steamboat Springs had been waiting for since 2002, when the U.S. Nordic team came within a heartbeat of bringing home Olympic glory near Salt Lake City, Utah.
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But that year, it wasn't to be.
On Sunday, finally, the wait for Olympic glory came to an end. Spillane, a native of Steamboat Springs, became the first American to win a Nordic combined Olympic medal by racing to second place in the normal hill Gundersen event — the first official Nordic combined event of the 2010 Vancouver games.
I could have been hearing things, but as the Steamboat Springs skier crossed the finish line, I thought for a second that I could hear the Nordic combined fans back home cheering louder than the crowd at a Twisted Sister concert.
Johnny must have heard them, too, because after his historic finish, he thanked the town for its support and said he could not have done it without them.
The people of Steamboat could be heard cheering for Spillane because he had earned America's first Nordic combined medal, they cheered because Spillane had reached a new milestone in the sport's history and they cheered because Johnny is one of those guys you can't help but cheer for.
It's hard to say what will happen as the 2010 games continue to unfold here in British Columbia. My guess is that it will continue to rain on most days and that the U.S. Ski Team will continue to push for more Olympic glory.
On Sunday, the team put three skiers in the top six and just missed putting two more skiers on the podium. Italy's Alessandro Pittin narrowly edged Todd Lodwick for third. Lodwick will have to wait for another chance at his own Olympic glory this year, but lucky for him, there are still two events left.
Unlucky for the rest of the world, the Americans will be gunning for more medals.
My guess is that Lodwick will be hungry for the team event Feb. 23 and the final individual event Feb. 25.
Yes, it's true that Sunday started just like any other rainy day, but by the end of the day, it had turned out to be something pretty special for Steamboat's Johnny Spillane.
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