Steamboat celebrates Spillane's gold

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— The U.S. Nordic combined team may have moved its operations to Park City, Utah last summer, but its heart is still firmly planted in Steamboat Springs.

A crowd of several hundred proved that Monday as they braved a steady stream of wet snow, falling temperatures and rather dismal conditions to honor native son and world champion Johnny Spillane.

"It takes a community to raise a world champion," said Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

The comments brought cheers from the crowd and pride to many of the people who had come to see Spillane's triumphant return.

It was the first time the 22-year-old has been back to Steamboat since winning the gold medal in the combined sprint at the Nordic World Championships Feb. 28 in Val de Fiemme, Italy.

The medal is special because it is the first time an American Nordic skier has won a gold at either the Olympics or the world championships.

"This is so awesome," a smiling Spillane said shortly after addressing the crowd that packed the Gondola Square and the deck of the Bear River Bar & Grill. "This is typical Steamboat Springs support -- everybody is here no matter what the weather is like."

It was just a few years ago that Spillane attended rallies like this one for skiers like Ryan Heckman, Dave Jarrett and current teammate Todd Lodwick.

Spillane is now on the other side of the fence, but admits seeing a little bit of himself in the faces of the children who gathered near the front of the stage.

"I've been to a few of these things," Spillane said. "It's just so much fun to be up here."

Others who came to show their support included coaches like Corby Fisher, service coordinator Rob Powers and former U.S. Nordic Combined Team coach Tom Steitz. Lodwick, a fellow hometown favorite and teammate, was on hand as was former Olympian Gary Crawford.

"I told him to believe me and trust me," Fisher said. "He did and he had a great season."

It wasn't only coaches and teammates joining Spillane on the stage. His mom, dad and brother were also on hand to share in his triumph.

Jim Spillane said it was an emotional moment for him as he watched his son hold the world championship medal over his head, igniting the fans that were already cheering Johnny's name.

"I just flashed back to all the days I spent at Howelsen freezing my tail off, all those trips to places like Winter Park and Lake Placid," Jim Spillane said. "Now I know it was all for this one moment."

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