Olympic send-off scheduled for this month

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A $60,000 send-off for local Olympians has been rescheduled for Dec. 30 and will coincide with the U.S. Freestyle Olympic Team Trials taking place in Steamboat the same day.

The event, originally scheduled for Jan. 27, was moved forward because some athletes would have left for Turin, Italy, the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics, said Andy Wirth, vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

However, many potential Steamboat Olympians will not know whether they will be part of the American contingent in Italy when the Dec. 30 ceremony takes place.

"Some people that will be there that night will not know for a fact that they will be selected for the team. We will certainly have them on stage," Wirth said.

Still, the decision to reschedule the send-off was an obvious one, Wirth said.

"In the past month, in speaking with athletes, coaches and the ski team, it became increasingly clear that that date did not afford us much of an opportunity to wish a fond farewell to local athletes," he said.

Wirth said integrating the send-off with the trials should make for an exciting day.

"That night, as currently scheduled, is likely to be one of the more spectacular nights in this valley's history," he said.

The event will include the lighting of a community cauldron first introduced in 2002, when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The cauldron eventually will be moved to the lawn of the Routt County Courthouse, Wirth said, but it will not stay lit throughout the games.

"We are a lot more environmentally aware than that, to be wasteful of any kind of gas or fuel," he said. After the send-off, the cauldron will be lit again Feb. 10, the night of the opening ceremonies in Turin.

In addition to recognition of local Olympians and community leaders, the event will include a fireworks show and a free concert by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Drew Soicher, sports anchor for Denver's KUSA Channel 9 News, will be the send-off's master of ceremonies. Bob Kendrick, a news anchor with the station, will cover the event. The station will conduct live broadcasts at 6 and 10 p.m.

NBC plans to broadcast the freestyle trials at 12:30 p.m. MST on Dec. 31.

Of the estimated $60,000 price tag for the send-off, $15,000 will come from the city of Steamboat Springs, $5,000 from Routt County and the remainder from company sponsorships, Wirth said.

Kathy Connell, who was a member of the City Council when it approved the $15,000 budget item, said she supported contributing the money because of the significance of the event.

"The most important part of the heritage of our community is that we grow Olympians. It is in our water, it's in our blood," Connell said in a recent interview.

Council member Paul Strong, who was president of the council at the time, said spending the money is worth it.

"It's a tough decision to spend ($15,000) on a one-night event, but it really is the heritage of this town," he said. "Steamboat has more Olympians than any other town. That's something special about Steamboat."

Wirth said the 2002 send-off was a powerful event, and organizers want to bring that feeling back.

"I've been in town since 1986 and have never taken part in an event that had as many people with one heart, one mind and one focus," he said. "It was an hour and a half of just pure community pride. We're hoping to capture that again on the night of Dec. 30."

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