John F. Russell: Olympian remembered important things in life


It's hard to believe that when Olympic mogul skier Nelson Carmichael moved to Steamboat Springs with his family in 1976, he was more interested in ice hockey than skiing.

At the time, he had no interest in becoming one of best known freestyle skiers in American history. He didn't plan to make the U.S. Ski Team, and he certainly wasn't dreaming of winning Olympic bronze at the 1992 Winter Games in France.

At the time, freestyle skiing wasn't an Olympic sport, and all the 12-year-old really wanted to do was play hockey.

Unfortunately, the hockey revolution in Steamboat Springs was more than two decades away, and Carmichael, like so many other youths, ended up at Howelsen Hill in the hands of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Carmichael wasn't a freestyle skier at first. Like most kids then, he started in the alpine program.

Eventually, Carmichael ended up under the guidance of freestyle legend Park Smalley, who helped him fine-tune his ability to ski in the bumps and make his way into Colorado skiing history.

But if you hear him tell the story, everything in Carmichael's skiing career just sort of happened.

It wasn't the end result of a long, drawn-out plan. It was simply the outcome of pursuing a sport he truly loved and desired to learn.

It's a rare, special story in a world where children often set lofty goals long before they develop a real love for their sport.

So often, I listen to young skiers who are driven by the desire for Olympic glory and a chance to win gold. For most, that opportunity is a long way down the road.

Every competition, every training session and every move is geared toward becoming a superstar. In some cases, the athletes are overlooking the experience that comes from enjoying the sport they pursue.

But that's not Carmichael's story.

Through it all, he remained focused on the important things -- learning his sport, working to get better and, most importantly, having fun.

He wasn't dreaming of fame or riches. He didn't expect to become a role model for the next generation. He was just hanging out with friends on the ski slopes.

In addition to making the national team and winning World Cups, he got two shots at the Olympics -- once in 1988 when freestyle was a demonstration sport and again in 1992, freestyle's first year as a medal sport.

That year, he captured the bronze medal at the 1992 games in Albertville, becoming the first Steamboat freestyle skier to win a medal at the Winter Games.

This month, he will be recognized when he becomes the second freestyle skier to be inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.

He will take his place among some of skiing's greatest names, all thanks to the fact that ice hockey wasn't the sport of choice in '70s Steamboat.


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