Snaphots of 23 athletes who hope to continue Steamboat’s Olympic tradition
December 7, 2009
When the 2010 Winter Olympic Games open in Vancouver, B.C., in February, Steamboat Springs' long-running Olympic tradition is likely to continue.
It will be fueled by homegrown athletes like Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, Alex Miller, Brett Denney and Bryan and Taylor Fletcher.
But there will be others.
There will be athletes who came to Steamboat Springs from Vermontville, N.Y., Black Hawk, S.D., and Park City, Utah, as part of their Olympic journey. These are athletes who were born outside of Steamboat Springs city limits but share at least two things in common with our homegrown athletes.
The first is a connection to Steamboat Springs, its community and its history. The second is a desire to step into the Olympic spotlight in order to reach the dreams many of the athletes have held since childhood.
"It's neat to think that a community of this size has the ability to compete with the world," said Rick DeVos, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. "It says a lot about this community and the coaches and athletes in this club that we've been able to produce so many high-level athletes for so long. It takes a lot of people to build this kind of tradition, and we are very proud of it."
In November, the skiers or snowboarders on these pages hoped to join the parade of Steamboat Olympic athletes that started with John Steele's appearance in Lake Placid, N.Y. Steele opened the door to Steamboat's Olympic tradition of Olympians in 1932, and there have been 71 athletes since then who have made 117 Olympic appearances.
The list includes Olympic medalists like Nelson Carmichael, who won the bronze medal on the moguls course in Albertville, France, in 1992; Shannon Dunn, who won the snowboard halfpipe bronze at 1998 in Nagano, Japan; and moguls skier Travis Mayer, who won the silver in men's freestyle at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It is undetermined who will compete in Vancouver come February, but the list of Olympians with Steamboat ties is certain to grow. Below are snapshots of some of the athletes who are hoping to add to Steamboat Springs' Olympic heritage.
Johnny Spillane, 28
This isn't the summer that 2003 Nordic combined World Champion Johnny Spillane had hoped for as he looks forward to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
He's spent the past two months recovering from a pair of surgeries to repair his damaged knee but is confident he will be back on top of his game by the time the snow starts to fly.
"I'm feeling good right now," Spillane said. "I've lost a bit, but I'm sure that I can get back in shape. I'm hoping to come back well rested and am looking at this as a blessing in disguise."
Spillane, who grew up a few blocks from Howelsen Hill, exploded onto the Nordic combined scene after winning the Nordic combined sprint event at the 2003 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
However, his career has included many other highlights. He's made three Olympic appearances (1998, 2002 and 2006) and was part of the Olympic team that placed fourth at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. His results also include a gold medal at the Junior World Championships in 1999 and silver in 2000.
Spillane says he loves the excitement and atmosphere surrounding the Olympics, but he says the key to success is keeping them in perspective.
"I enjoy the pressure, the excitement of the Olympics. … It seems like I always have my best results at the biggest events."
Bill Demong, 29
Nordic combined skier Bill Demong is a native of Vermontville, N.Y., but there is no doubt the U.S. Ski Team veteran also has found a following in Steamboat Springs.
The three-time Olympian (1998, 2002 and 2006) moved to Steamboat Springs in 1996. He wanted to be closer to the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, which was based here at the time. He lived in the Yampa Valley from 1998 to 2003. When the U.S. Ski Team moved to Park City, Utah, after the 2002 Olympics, Demong reluctantly changed his address.
However, Demong's connection to Steamboat Springs is strong. The young athlete suffered a skull fracture in a swimming accident in August 2002 but spent the winter recovering, cross-country skiing and taking a few college classes in Steamboat Springs.
He returned to the U.S. Team and the World Cup Tour for the 2003-04 season, but it was in 2007 that he made his mark. That year, Demong raced to the silver medal in the individual Gundersen event at the 2007 World Championships.
It was a breakthrough and marked Demong's rise to the top. Last season, he was nearly unstoppable in the World Cup circuit, collecting 10 World Cup podiums and placing third in the race for the overall title. He added two more World Championship medals to his collection of hardware at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. He brought home gold and bronze medals.
Todd Lodwick, 33
Since 1994, Steamboat Springs native Todd Lodwick has represented the gold standard for American Nordic combined skiing.
The four-time Olympian (1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006) has six victories on the World Cup tour, won the German Grand Prix in 2004 and has stepped on the international podium 30 times in his career.
Until last season, however, World Championship and Olympic glory had eluded the skier who grew up in the shadows of Howelsen Hill's world-famous ski jumps.
Lodwick retired in 2006 after a frustrating Olympic showing in Pragelato, Italy. Luckily for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, however, Lodwick's absence from the sport was short-lived. He spent two years on the sidelines before he made a return to the sport he's known since childhood. He worked his way back on to the World Cup Tour and was rewarded with two gold medals (mass start, individual Gundersen) at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Now that he's back on top of his game, Lodwick has set his sights on the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and some unfinished business.
"I'm confident in what we are doing. … We've had to jump a couple of hurdles this summer, but we are moving in the right direction, we have the right focus, and we know what we are doing will make us competitive with the best teams in the world," Lodwick said.
Alex Miller, 23
Alex Miller has spent the past four years with the U.S. Nordic combined team looking for his chance to jump to the next level.
With any luck, that jump will come early this winter, and Miller will reach a goal he has been working toward for most of his life.
"The key to this season will be skiing well in those early Continental Cup events and qualifying for the World Cup," Miller said.
Miller finished last season strong. He picked up 10th-, 11th- and fifth-place finishes in his final three Continental Cup meets, respectively. He also recorded a sixth-place finish at a December 2008 Continental Cup meet in Park City, Utah. That, combined with a strong summer training season, has him excited about his chances of moving up to World Cup and the possibility of landing a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.
Erica Mueller, 28
For Erica Mueller, snowboarding is a passion. She started racing in high school in Vermont and after graduation in 1999 moved to Steamboat Springs with hopes of making it to the sport's biggest stages. She just missed her shot in 2006 but is determined to make it this time around.
"It was heartbreaking when I didn't qualify," Mueller said about the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team. "I don't want that to happen this time around. I'm working really hard, and I don't want to consider the option of failing to make the team."
Mueller has been a member of the U.S. Team since 2004. She left the team last summer to join an elite group of riders as part of America's Snowboarding Team.
Mueller won the U.S. National Parallel Giant Slalom championships in 2006 and was part of the World Championship team in 2007 and 2009. She won a NorAm Race to the Cup parallel slalom in 2008 and was fourth and fifth at the NorAm finals last season. She picked up an eighth-place finish on the World Cup in 2007 and also owns a 12th-place finish from 2006.
"It's a new team with a new approach. I think this team will give me the best chance to qualify for the Olympics and do well once I get there," Mueller said.
Tyler Jewell, 32
Olympic snowboarder Tyler Jewell is looking to earn his second straight Olympic appearance in 2010. The U.S. Ski Team member spent the second half of last season on the sideline with a sprained medial collateral ligament. Despite his injury, Jewell finished with two World Cup top 10s (a fifth and seventh) and finished with a 10th at the World Championships, where he was riding injured.
Jewell lived in Steamboat Springs before the 2006 Olympics in Italy and for a year after that. He moved to San Diego in 2007 and now is living in Park City, Utah.
Bryan Fletcher, 23
Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher seems to be coming into his own at just the right time.
Fletcher, who was born in Steamboat Springs, is coming off one of his best seasons on the U.S. Nordic combined team. Last season, he earned his first World Cup points and landed on his first Continental Cup podium.
He also understands that it will be a fight to earn a spot on a very talented U.S. Nordic Combined team. But it isn't the first time in his life that he has faced a challenge.
When Fletcher was 3, doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For two years, Bryan and his family traveled to Childrens Hospital in Denver for regular chemotherapy treatments. When the treatments ended, Bryan continued to make the long trips for follow-up appointments for the next two years.
He won his battle with cancer but still is looking for ways to give back. Last summer, he worked with two organizations that help children dealing with cancer, including the Candlelighters. He helped the Candlelighters organize the Walk of Hope and 5K run.
Vic Wild, 23
It's true that Vic Wild would love to be named to the 2010 U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Vancouver in February, but the 23-year-old says his goals are not limited to a single event.
He wants to become the fastest rider in the world.
After a solid season in 2008, Wild was sidelined for most of the 2009 season with an ankle injury. Four surgeries later, he appears to be back on top of his game. He finished in eighth place in a parallel slalom event in Landgraaf, Netherlands, in October and says he feels good headed into the season. How he fares in the five Olympic qualifiers, which run from December through the first week in February, will determine if he gets an invitation to Vancouver.
Eliza Outtrim, 24
Mogul skier Eliza Outtrim learned how to ski on the slopes of Mount Snow in Vermont, but when she decided to get serious about reaching the next level of skiing, she came to Steamboat Springs.
Outtrim, who was born in New Haven, Conn., moved to Steamboat Springs in fall 2002. She attended The Lowell Whiteman School and was a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. In 2005, she earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team thanks to a win at a NorAm event in Killington, Vt. She finished second in the NorAm standings that year.
She opened 2006 with a win at the selection events and placed seventh in her first Word Cup that same year in Deer Valley, Utah.
Today she lives in Steamboat Springs but splits time with Colorado Springs, where she is an economics major at Colorado College. This winter, however, she is planning to focus on skiing and her shot at Olympic glory.
Mike Morse, 28
A third-place finish in Norway last winter marked the first time U.S. Ski Team mogul skier Mike Morse has landed on the World Cup podium. This year, the skier, who lives in Steamboat Springs, is hoping to continue his string of firsts. This winter is the first time Morse will have a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team's "A" squad, and he is hoping he will ski well enough to earn his first invitation to the Olympic Games.
Morse moved from Duxbury, Mass., and spent a winter with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club before being named to the U.S. team six years ago. He still lives in Steamboat Springs.
"I can't wait to get started. I'm already looking forward to the first World Cup," Morse said.
Jeremy Cota, 21
Jeremy Cota said the key to success for him this season is to forget about the results and just focus on skiing.
"I feel great. I had a great camp in Whistler, British Columbia, and I've been training all summer on the water ramps," Cota said.
He's hoping the hard work will pay off with top results at the selection events and World Cup openers in December. Cota already has collected 11 career podiums on the NorAm and Europa Cups, including two second-place finishes last season. He also won the NorAm title for dual moguls. His mother, an instructor at Big Squaw Mountain in Maine, introduced Cota to skiing. He was a member of the Sugarloaf Freestyle Program when he was 12 and attended the Carrabassett Valley Academy for five years.
"This season, I plan to focus on clean, fast runs. If I can do that then I think I will be successful," Cota said.
Justin Reiter, 28
After racing in the opening World Cup last season in the Netherlands, Steamboat Springs snowboarder Justin Reiter was forced to make the tough choice of whether to have surgery to repair a damaged knee.
"I knew that something was wrong with the knee," Reiter said.
He tried to rest it and only ride on it during competitions. But after the indoor race in Landgraaf, Netherlands, in October 2008, he decided it was time for action.
"I couldn't train for races, and I wasn't riding as fast as I thought I should be," Reiter said. "It was a little bit of a gamble, but I think the surgery was the right choice."
This year, Justin has returned to the snow and is hoping that sacrificing last season will make him faster and more dangerous in the World Cup.
Emiko Torito, 27
Emiko Torito has been a regular in the World Cup circuit since being named to the U.S. Ski Team 10 years ago. Her connection to Steamboat Springs dates to 1998, when she moved to our mountain town to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and attend The Lowell Whiteman School.
In 1999, she won the U.S. Junior Championships and has collected three medals, including the 2001 dual moguls title, in five trips to the Junior World Championships.
She won her first World Cup in 2008 in Lake Placid, N.Y. She also was the national moguls champion in 2008.
Maddy Schaffrick, 15
At first glance, 15-year-old Maddy Schaffrick looks more like a typical teenager than a contender for a spot on this year's Olympic snowboarding team.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Schaffrick, who was on a snowboard at age 7, already has an impressive list of top results to her name. Schaffrick finished fourth in a U.S. Grand Prix event at Copper Mountain and was third at the finals in Killington, Vt., last season. She was also riding high after getting her first invitation to the Winter X Games.
But if Schaffrick hopes to make the Olympic cut, she will have to earn a spot in an impressive field that is expected to include top halfpipe riders like Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter.
Ryan St. Onge, 26
American aerials champion Ryan St. Onge calls Winter Park his home, but like so many other skiers, he spent several years developing his talents with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
St. Onge attended The Lowell Whiteman School from 2000 until his graduation in 2001. He has spent 13 years on the U.S. Ski Team. Last season, St. Onge won two World Cup competitions and brought his total to seven for his career. He also owns five U.S. titles and five Junior World medals — including two gold.
"One of the toughest things for me is to stay relaxed and trust what I'm doing. It may pertain to jumping or simply to getting better sleep, but if I can stay relaxed and calm, I can perform my best. And that's all I really want to do," St. Onge said.
Darren Ratcliffe, 27
Several top finishes last season has Alpine snowboarder Darren Ratcliffe looking forward to getting back on snow this winter.
Ratcliffe elected to skip the opening meet of the season, an indoor World Cup in Landgraaf, Netherlands, to save money and avoid racing inside. But after collecting a first in a parallel slalom and third in a parallel giant slalom at NorAm events in Steamboat Springs last season, he is excited for the possibilities.
Ratcliffe moved to Steamboat Springs after high school to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. He recently moved to Utah to be closer to the U.S. Team but still considers the Yampa Valley his home.
Nick Hendrickson, 18
Nick Hendrickson knows if he makes the 2010 Olympic Games it is going to be a bit of a surprise, but that will not stop him from trying. Hendrickson, 18, is actually from Park City, Utah, but spent last winter in Steamboat Springs working with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach Martin Bayer. The junior enjoyed a solid season, earning a spot on the Junior World Championship Team that competed in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia.
Brett Denney, 19
Brett Denney is aware that the Olympics are a possibility in 2010, but a spot isn't the main goal for the 19-year-old skier from Steamboat Springs.
"I want to consistently finish in the top 20 of Continental Cup meets and maybe move up to World Cup A," Denney said. "It would also be nice to land on the podium at the Junior World Championships. The Olympics could happen, but if they don't I'm not going to be too disappointed."
Matt Ladley, 18
Matt Ladley was just 14 when he was asked to join the U.S. Ski Team's rookie squad. Since then, the Steamboat Springs snowboarder has collected a long list of top halfpipe results, including second-place finishes at the 2009 Oakley Arctic Challenge and the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix. This year he plans to focus on the Dew Tour and hopefully land a spot at the 2010 Winter X Games. Of course he also would love to land a spot on the Olympic team that will compete in Vancouver, but he understands that getting one of the four spots will be a challenge.
Jana Lindsey, 25
Olympic aerialist Jana Lindsey used to drive from her home in Black Hawk, S.D., to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Lindsey had one of the best seasons of her career in 2009 after she increased the degree of difficulty in her competition moves. She finished in fifth place at the World Championships in Japan and then capped off the season by winning the national title.
Michelle Gorgone, 26
Michelle Gorgone learned to snowboard at Waterville Valley, N.H., before moving to Steamboat Springs, where she joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and attended The Lowell Whiteman School. She graduated in 2001. She was a member of five Junior World Championship teams (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003) before making the jump to the World Cup. She was a member of the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team and finished 22nd in parallel giant slalom.
Mick Dierdorff, 18
Success on the NorAm last winter has resulted in a change of plans for Steamboat Springs snowboarder Mick Dierdorff.
Dierdorff earned the overall NorAm title in boardercross last season and is hoping to improve on that this winter. The top result earned him a guaranteed spot on the World Cup Tour this winter and a chance to compete in all the Olympic qualifiers. It also convinced him to delay his college plans for at least one year.
Dierdorff, who had planned to attend the University of Colorado this fall, has decided to stay in Steamboat Springs and continue to prepare for the upcoming season.
Taylor Fletcher, 19
Taylor Fletcher knows his odds of making the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team are long, but that's not going to stop him from making a run.
"It's going to be a dog fight with everyone on the team," Fletcher said. "We are all so close, and everybody has an opportunity to make the cut."
Fletcher is coming off a strong season. He made the Junior World Championship team and was rewarded with his first World Cup start. He also picked up a 12th-place finish at the Junior World Championships in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia.