Olympic-sized send-off planned

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Some would say it was one of Steamboat Springs' shining moments:

A bitter cold February night with a crowd of 5,000 people huddled near the Routt County Courthouse lawn, warmed by the spirit of a community that came together to celebrate and send off its finest athletes. The lighting of an 18-foot caldron, which would burn continuously for a month until every athlete returned home from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Four years ago, the community's send-off celebration for its 16 Olympians became a magical moment in Steamboat history. Now, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. wants to replicate that night for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

To do so could cost $68,000.

On Tuesday, Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth asked the Routt County Board of Commissioners to contribute $15,000 to the celebration. A similar request will be made to the Steamboat Springs City Council. Ski Corp. also plans to ask the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association for $5,000 and local and regional businesses to sponsor about $25,000.

The first community Olym-pics send-off cost about $50,000, took less than two months of planning and included the then-radical idea of shooting fireworks from the top of the courthouse and building an 18-foot steel caldron.

Wirth said he wants to repeat the event, but he wants more planning this time around.

The inaugural event came on the heels of Sept. 11 and during a year when the Olympics were just hours away from Steamboat.

"I think we stumbled on to something four years ago," Wirth said. "Every four years, I think the community can come together and set aside all our differences and celebrate our athletes."

On Tuesday, commissioners agreed that the emotions sparked by the send-off were great for the athletes and the community. However, they were not ready to commit to a $15,000 contribution.

The commissioners agreed to provide facilities and staff support similar to the first send-off, but they wanted to wait on the financial contribution until their budget review process began for 2006.

"It is a big dollar amount to throw out there for a one-night party. Somehow you have to figure out how you quantify all that," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The $68,000 price tag includes a musical act on a full stage on Lincoln Avenue, a laser light show and fireworks and an estimated $12,000 to fuel the caldron's flame with natural gas throughout the Olympic Games.

Ski Corp. has selected Jan. 28 as the date for the celebration. Wirth said it will be three days after the U.S. Olympics team is named and before athletes will begin traveling to Italy.

Wirth estimates 20 athletes who call Steamboat home have the potential of competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Wirth said they use the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club designation to calculate Winter Olympians from Steamboat -- basically those who train and live here or have trained and lived here for extended periods of time.

"It was one of the few moments in my 20 years here where there was one line of common thought, and that was, as a community, to send off our athletes to do battle," Wirth said about the last Olympics celebration. "Everybody came together that one night."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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