John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs It's hard not to be optimistic standing at the base of Howelsen Hill's new plastic-covered ski jumps.
This, despite the fact that special jumping - at least men's special jumping - seems to have hit rock bottom in the United States. Last year, the U.S. Team failed to hire a head coach for the men, and, this season, it appears Clint Jones and Alan Alborn have decided to retire.
But like I said, it's difficult not to be optimistic when you are standing in the shadow of Howelsen Hill. Todd Wilson, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Nordic program director, proves how inspirational Howelsen can be.
He's not disappointed. He's not upset or even worried about the future of the sport.
"It's cyclical," Wilson says. "Ski jumping will be back. This is just a wake-up call."
I have to admit, before talking to Wilson last week, I didn't share his optimistic attitude. I've watched the sport struggle during the past couple of years. I don't blame the athletes who have done their best with limited funding, inconsistent coaching and a lack of support.
But the future of the sport isn't bleak in Wilson's eyes.
He sees the U.S. Ski Team's problems with the men's special jumping team as a wake-up call.
He believes men's special jumping will make a comeback, and it will start on hills like the ones in Steamboat Springs, and it will be fueled by communities like ours that support sports such as ski jumping and Nordic combined through good years and bad.
It's not going to be easy. Ski jumping is one of the most competitive winter sports going, and in order to gain the support of the U.S. Ski Team, the special jumping team will need to prove they can be competitive in a world arena. The comeback will not be sponsored by the U.S. Ski Team's limited budget, but by parents, communities and winter sports clubs like the one in Steamboat Springs.
The athletes will need to rise to the top of the sport without the help of veteran teammates who can show them the ropes and the path to World Cup success.
But winning World Cups events, World Championships and Olympic medals isn't supposed to be easy. That's why winning one of those medals or one of these events is so special.
It would be easy to sit back and point out the problems the U.S. Ski Team will face during the next several years, but that would be easy. I guess what the sport needs right now is this town's support and faith that special jumping isn't dead.
Only time will tell if the U.S. Ski Team can make a comeback in the sport of special jumping, but like I said, it's hard not to be optimistic when you live in the shadows of a hill that has supported so many of this country's best special jumpers. When I look at Howelsen and listen to coaches like Wilson, it's hard not to see a bright future.