Luke Graham: Different vibes
July 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Of all the good sights in and around Steamboat Springs this holiday weekend, maybe none was better than Johnny Spillane on Thursday running around Howelsen Hill playing soccer with his U.S. Nordic combined teammates.
Spillane had the old look about him.
He looked healthy. He looked like he was in great shape, and he had a bounce to his step.
Just a year ago, the July 4th Ski Jumping Extravaganza didn't have that. There was a stoic vibe to it. The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, on the heels of a transcendent Olympic performance, looked worn out.
Maybe Spillane was affected the most. He had hurt his knee that summer, requiring his eighth surgery. He'd just come off a historic Olympic Games where he became the face of Steamboat. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Add in that he and his wife, Hilary, welcomed their first child, and it wasn't shocking to see Spillane worn down.
But the whole team seemed like that last year. At face value they would say all the right things about the World Championships: how excited they were, how they thought they could win and how it was an important piece of their legacy.
It just didn't seem that way.
The top guys, including Spillane, were burnt out, tired of answering the same questions from all sectors of the country.
Who can blame them?
That attitude carried over into a season where the Americans, by their standards, had a down year. Individually or as a team, they could never put it together.
Some of it had to be directly attributed to the Olympic hangover.
On Thursday, however, at the base of Howelsen, things seemed like they used to. The vibe was certainly better. The young guys and old faces seemed to be more into things. That Olympic hangover had officially worn off.
There was Spillane in the middle of it. He looked like he used to. Although he hasn't committed to this season, all signs point to him doing so.
He has been training like he'll ski. He'll accompany the rest of the team to Germany and France next week for a two-week team camp.
The countless requests and interviews and the toll it took all seem to be a thing of the past. It's setting up to be a big year for the team. They will try to get their swagger back and show they're still one of the best teams on the planet.
The team will continue to see if Bryan and Taylor Fletcher are ready to make the jump to the next level.
And come October, the team will have the chance to showcase the sport to a broader audience.
The 2012 U.S. Nordic Combined Championships take place in Fox River Grove, Ill., about an hour's drive from Chicago. How many people on the Interstate 90 corridor have seen ski jumping live? Probably not many.
All those are good things.
Although Spillane hasn't committed to another year, here's guessing he comes back for at least one more season.
That wouldn't just be a good thing. It would be a great thing.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com
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