John F. Russell: Continuing Olympics traditions

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Each year, hundreds of athletes show up at Howelsen Hill hoping to discover the path to Olympic glory.

Those who have visited Howelsen know that you don't have to look very hard to find the Olympic heritage that Steamboat Springs is famous for.

For years, the jumps at Howelsen have launched ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes to national and Olympic glory. The steep-pitched slopes have provided a starting point for Alpine skiers to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Buddy Werner.

The legacy will continue this week as several local snowboarders make bids to become a part of Steamboat's Olympic tradition during a series of national level races at Howelsen Hill.

The Olympics are more than a year away, but many members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Alpine snowboarding program are just starting to build their case for an Olympic invitation in 2006.

If Justin Reiter, Erika Mueller, David Manthei, Tyler Jewell and Zac Kay hope to make the trip to Torino, Italy, it will have to start at events such as the Race of the Cup in places such as Steamboat.

And why shouldn't their journey to the Olympics begin here?

In the past several years, Steamboat has become a center for Alpine snowboarding in the United States.

Some of the most promising athletes in the country have come here to train with coaches such as Thedo Remmelink and follow in the footsteps of riders such as Michelle Gorgone.

Steamboat and the Winter Sports Club offer one of the best snowboarding programs anywhere, and as a result, top riders from America and other countries have come to Steamboat to learn from the best.

Most of the athletes in the Winter Sports Club's snowboarding program realize that grabbing one of the limited spots on the U.S. Olympic team will be a challenge. Top riders seem to be entrenched, and there are only a few spots open for Alpine riders.

But they also know that anything can happen in the months leading up to the games and that getting to the Olympics will come only through hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck.

The snowboarders in Steamboat think they have a few things going for them. This small mountain town knows what it takes to produce Olympic athletes. For generations, Steamboat has produced some of the top ski jumpers, Nordic combined and freestyle skiers in the world and seem on track to do the same thing in snowboarding.

Shannon Dunn, who was born and raised here, won the bronze medal in Nagano, Japan, in the halfpipe, letting Steamboat's young riders know that they can do it, too.

So don't be surprised if this week's Race to the Cup features some of the best snowboarders in the country.

Some of them will have traveled hundreds of miles from the place they call home to compete, but most of them already call Steamboat home.

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