Utah changes Spillane

Nordic combined athlete benefits from year-round training

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— Life in Utah has changed Johnny Spillane.

For one, he hasn't found any great fly-fishing spots to replace those lost when he moved from Steamboat Springs to train in Park City with the U.S. Nordic combined coaches after the 2002 Olympics.

He's looking, but Provo and Salt Lake City aren't exactly backcountry retreats and the larger number of people there means more fishermen.

On the other hand, the Nordic combined athlete from Steamboat is making a name for himself and his country out there in the wide world of World Cup.

Spillane, home in Steamboat this week for the holidays, is coming off impressive performances in his latest stops on the World Cup A circuit. He recorded three podium finishes in three days, finishing second once and third twice in Trondheim, Norway, Dec. 6-8.

He narrowly missed another top-three finish in the Czech Republic, placing fourth on Dec. 14 and then seventh on Dec. 15 in Harrachov.

"I'm just kind of developing as an athlete," Spillane said. "Everything is starting to come together."

Sometimes his jumping has been strong. At other times, Spillane believes his skiing has been his strength. But this season, the 22-year-old has become more consistent in practices and competitions in both facets of the Nordic combined.

Due, in part, to his move to Utah.

"In Park City in the summer, I can jump every day," Spillane said. "If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't be where I am at now. So far it has gone pretty well. I was expecting to get good results because I had a good summer. The level of jumping is really consistent right now. Even my average jumps are competitive."

Thanks mostly to plastic.

The ski jumps in Park City are covered in the stuff, allowing the Nordic combined athletes living there to train daily year-round, just like the athletes in countries like Austria, Finland and Germany.

Spillane said he misses many things about both Steamboat's summers and winters, but the move has helped not only him, but those younger kids representing the future of America's Nordic combined program.

"I spent half my summers on the rivers, especially in the summer when I had some spare time," Spillane said. "Now I jump. You could see we were handicapping ourselves by not doing it."

But the U.S. Team member said Steamboat is still an ideal place for winter training. Spillane enjoys skiing on Howelsen Hill and hoped to do some jumping while he was home, depending on the availability of the hills.

Up next on Spillane's World Cup schedule is a trip to Europe for events in Germany, Austria and France at the turn of the year, and then he's off to Japan for competitions in Hakuba and Sapporo in late January.

"Sapporo is a neat city and an awesome place to jump," Spillane said. "That's something to look forward to."

Further down the calendar is the U.S. National Championships in Steamboat Feb. 12 and 13.

"We'll be back for a week and I can wash my clothes," Spillane said.

Now, that's something to look forward to.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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