Saturday, December 14, 2002
After asking the same question to about a half-dozen people last week, it was Dave Jarrett who came up with the best answer.
"Nothing," he said calmly when I asked him what the biggest difference is between last year's Nordic Combined World Cup and this year's World Cup B.
Of course, he went on to explain that the names of the competitors would be different the household names like Manninen, Lajunen and Ackermann (not to mention Lodwick, Demong and Spillane) would not visit Steamboat this year. Instead, those skiers would remain in places where households actually know their names.
There would also be a few less bells and whistles. There would be no VIP tent for the sponsors, and no high-tech pressroom to help the throngs of media who would have come from all over the world to cover the event.
The truth is, organizers didn't even know if there would be enough reporters in Steamboat this week to have press conferences. But that has nothing to do with the fact that this is a World Cup B event. The newspapers, magazines and television news stations would not have come to Steamboat this year even if this were a regular World Cup event. The spotlight on winter sports faded last year when the Olympic flame was extinguished in Salt Lake City.
Three years from now, a World Cup will once again be front-page news, but right now it's a brief in the back of the sports section in most cities across the United States. Especially in a discipline like Nordic combined.
But even with all these big differences, when I showed up at the base of Howelsen Hill, I was shocked to discover that the difference between last year's events and this year's events was slight at best.
Just like last year, Kathi Meyer was still hard at work in Olympian Hall, Todd Wilson was busy keeping the hills and trails in shape and Deb Olsen was in the press room asking if I needed anything.
Jarrett had told the truth. Outside of the names and extras, nothing about the Steamboat Springs World Cup had changed.
Top-level athletes were still competing on the hills and people in Steamboat were still giving 100 percent to support them.
Every year, people like Meyer, Wilson and Olsen volunteer their time to keep the legend of Ski Town USA alive. They are not there to support their kids (unless you count the kids they know in the club they don't really have any), but they are there to support Steamboat and the tradition this town has built of producing Olympians.
The fact is, a lot has changed since last year. The Salt Lake City Olympics, and all the glory that went along with those games, are gone. The U.S. Nordic combined team has moved on to the plastic-covered slopes of Park City.
But the volunteers, parents and local Nordic combined supporters who came out to Howelsen this week, proved that nothing has changed about the way this town supports winter sports absolutely nothing.