Wednesday, February 8, 2006
This month, the best skiers and snowboarders Steamboat Springs has to offer will arrive in Turin, Italy, prepared to write the latest chapter in our town's legendary Olympic history.
The adventures of our local athletes will not be recorded with ink on paper, but instead with the blood, sweat and tears shed during the past four years.
When March arrives, these Olympic tales will become part of a legacy that started several generations ago. And the stories will not reflect a single day on the slopes of Sauze d'Oulx, Bardonecchia or Pragelato.
Rather, the stories are built on a lifetime of dreams and the support of a community that seems forever vested in the pursuit of the Olympic dream.
The original author of this rich local history, John Dwight Steele, penned the first chapter in 1932. At the time, Steamboat wasn't necessarily the type of place one might expect to produce elite skiers.
In those days, Steamboat was a small ranching town in Northwest Colorado, where Steele's father managed dry goods for the J.F. Hugus Co. and served as country assessor. Steamboat's reputation as Ski Town USA was still decades from becoming reality.
Steele was the third Coloradan to be selected to an Olympic team, and he finished 15th in a field of 35 jumpers in Lake Placid, N.Y.
But Steele's results were not nearly as important as the example he set.
By making it to the Olympics, Steele paved the path for the 68 athletes who have passed through the doors of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and into U.S. Olympic lore. That number includes the many athletes who are headed to Italy for this month's 2006 Olympic Games staged near Turin in northern Italy.
Like many of the skiers and snowboarders who will represent Steamboat this winter, Steele was not born in the Yampa Valley.
His family lived in Minnesota before moving to Steamboat in 1918. He was inspired by skiing legend Carl Howelsen and spent his childhood chasing a dream that eventually carried him to the Winter Olympics.
The Winter Olympics have changed a lot since 1932, but Steamboat's support of the athletes who pursue their Olympic dreams has not.
This year, Nordic combined and special jumpers will join snowboarders and freestyle skiers to form a new class of local Olympians.
Most of them grew up fueled by the idea of winning Olympic gold. But like Steele, these athletes' achievements will become part of a much bigger tradition.
Names such as Nelson Carmichael, Shannon Dunn and Travis Mayer, all who have won Olympic medals, built on that tradition. But winning a medal doesn't make a local legend. Buddy Werner, arguably Steamboat's most famous skier, never stood on an Olympic podium.
This February, most Americans will tune into the Olympics hoping for a brief feeling of national pride. It's our country's chance to cheer for the red, white and blue.
In Steamboat, we will watch the Olympics on TV, but for a much different reason. We all want to see what chapter our new class of Olympians will add to a story that never gets dull.
Steamboat Pilot & Today sports editor and photographer John F. Russell will cover local athletes live from Italy this month. Check the newspaper and its Web site, www.steamboatpilot.com, for daily updates about how Steamboat's Olympians are faring on the international stage that is the Winter Olympic Games.