Olympic send-off

Ski Town USA celebrates the Games with its own torch relay

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— It seems fitting that in lieu of hosting the official torch relay, Steamboat will plant a vast cauldron of flames on the court-house lawn that will burn until the Olympics is over.

Steamboat has 16 Olympians going to the Games when one counts Australian freestyle skier Maria Despas, the wife of Don St. Pierre, who is the head moguls coach for the U.S. Ski Team. Despas and St. Pierre have owned a home in Steamboat for a decade, said Rick DeVos, the executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

With 16 people who are connected to this small city going to the Olympics, local leaders thought it would be a good idea to have a hometown Olympic send-off before sending the team six hours west to Salt Lake City.

While some locals have complained that Steamboat was bypassed as a site for the torch relay, DeVos said he thinks the send-off will prove just how integral the Steamboat community is to the world's greatest games. The send-off acts in part as a way to rebuff those who chose not to take the torch through Steamboat.

"We're absolutely playing a little bit with that," DeVos said. "They obviously can't send the torch everywhere. When we heard it wasn't coming here, we thought 'We can live with that.'"

So the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has built a 12-foot high steel structure that will be powered by FerrellGas and will create enough of a flame to heat a cauldron eight feet in diameter.

Today at 6 p.m. the ceremony to celebrate Steamboat's unique Olympic heritage will begin at the courthouse. Lincoln Avenue from Fifth to Seventh Street will be closed off beginning at 10:30 a.m. to set up.

The event, in fact, will be going on all day, with former Olympians and other dignitaries carrying the torch from the top of Mount Werner to the Routt County Courthouse. A video played at the ceremony will showcase the trip taken by the former Olympians, though the identity of the final torchbearer, who will travel up to the cauldron and ignite it, is still a mystery.

Although not all of Steamboat's Olympians will be in attendance, the crowd will be filled with athletes going to the games including the entire U.S. Women's Hockey Team and the U.S. freestyle team, which is practicing on Voodoo this week.

Travis Mayer, a local freestyle skier who is headed for the Olympics, said the local support is priceless.

"It's obviously exciting living here because there are so many top-level athletes to ski with," Mayer said. "The town definitely supports its athletesIt provides a great opportunity for kids to grow up skiing competitively and live in a town that understands and supports their dreams."

Television stations from Denver will be on hand to broadcast the celebration, DeVos said.

David Letterman, host of the Late Show, also knows about the event, DeVos said. Letterman aides could not confirm whether the Late Show will be airing any of the celebration.

City Council President Kathy Connell said she thinks Steamboat, with the most winter Olympians of any town in America (if not the world), deserves the name "Olympian Town U.S.A." as well as "Ski Town U.S.A."

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