AFTER THE WHISTLE

Olympic tradition runs deep

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— John Steele started a tradition in Steamboat Springs back in 1932 when he became the first local athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics.

Steele, who was a ski jumper, began the tradition of sending athletes to the Olympic Games, which has continued to snowball over the years.

It's one of Steamboat's longest-running traditions and there is no doubt that Ski Town USA is proud of its 53 Olympians seven of whom are in town training this week at Howelsen Hill.

It's hard to imagine that any other city in the country has had more of an impact on the games than Steamboat Springs.

Much of that tradition is built on the backs of ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes who have bolstered the total number of Olympians from Steamboat Springs over the years.

This year, 15 local athletes (including seven Nordic combined and four ski jumpers) who are either Steamboat natives or have ties to Steamboat will carry on the tradition of competing in the Winter Olympic Games.

But now that Park City has the premier jumping site in the United States, are the days when Steamboat Springs produces 15 Olympians numbered?

Maybe, but only time will tell.

Todd Wilson, Steamboat Springs Nordic director, said the Utah facilities will no doubt impact the Winter Sports Club in one way or another. The National Sports Foundation is already producing top junior athletes (under the guidance of former SSWSC member Corby Fisher) that are pushing the Steamboat Nordic programs.

But this, according to Wilson, is a good thing.

"No matter what park Park City does, we are going to keep doing the same things we always do," Wilson said. "The competition is good for Park City, it's good for us and it's good for the sport."

Wilson's only fear is that Steamboat Springs athletes and Colorado athletes will start migrating to Park City because Steamboat will be unable to compete with the Utah facilities in the summer this would be bad for the local club and threaten Steamboat's dominance of producing Olympic athletes.

This is a real fear when you consider the only real advantage the Olympic sites have over Steamboat is those high-priced plastic-covered jumps.

But the truth is, only time would tell what impact those jumps have. They are expensive to maintain and just because they are in Utah doesn't mean athletes are going to walk away from a strong club like the one in Steamboat.

"It's a huge deal," Wilson said. "We are at a definite disadvantage."

However, the coach is confident Steamboat will in fact cover at least a few of the jumps at Howelsen in the upcoming years. However, he isn't confident that all the jumps will be covered in the near future. The $10 million dollar price tag, plus trying to maintain the facility, is just too high of a price to pay.

Still, no matter what happens at Howelsen, Wilson is confident about Steamboat's ability to produce Olympians.

"The jumps are vital, but Olympians coming from Steamboat is a tradition and it's not just going to go away," Wilson said.

The Nordic coach is probably right. Just last week, two locals Nathan Gerhart and Alex Glueck proved it by climbing onto the podium in Schonach, Germany, at the World Juniors.

I also have no doubt that this town's newest generation of Olympians will show the world why Steamboat Springs truly is, with or without plastic, the birthplace of Olympians.

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