Sunday, September 23, 2007
John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by John here.
Steamboat Springs Skiers can spend their entire career chasing the gold medal. It's the symbol of all that's good about sports. It's a source of national pride, and its value can't be measured simply in dollars.
But the other day, when I got the chance to hold a gold medal from the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in my hands, it wasn't the earthshaking experience I had expected. I wasn't overcome by a sense of awe or inspired to go home and encourage my children to start working on their own Olympic dreams. I know it's too late for me.
But after holding the medal, the thing that really struck me is that the symbol of Olympic greatness paled in comparison to the woman who had won it.
For me, the 1984 Olympic games seem like a page out of my childhood. I remember watching American playboy Bill Johnson race to the gold in the men's downhill. But, to be honest, I can't remember the details of Deb Armstrong's run to Olympic greatness.
And that's too bad.
I was a junior at Arapahoe High School at the time, and I was more interested in catching the attention of that cute girl in my Western Civilization class than in following the Olympics on television. Today, I can't remember that girl's name, but I'm more impressed than ever with Armstrong. Not because of what she did on the giant slalom course, but because of the type of person she seems to be.
Armstrong, who was just a few years older than me at the time she won the race, ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated for her efforts. But she's humble and points out that her cover-girl appearance was determined by the weather - not her athletic prowess.
The way she tells it, Johnson was the story that year, and she thinks the people at Sports Illustrated already had decided he would go on the cover if he won the men's downhill. Luckily for Armstrong, Bill's race was postponed by weather, and her gold medal was a godsend for the editors who found their cover just in the nick of time. A few days later, Johnson won the gold, earning his spot on the front of the following week's issue.
But while the two American skiers have cover appearances in common, that's pretty much where the story ends. Johnson's life has been a manic episode filled with heartache. Armstrong didn't let her story end with a medal.
She's proud of it, but she wants to make sure she is remembered for more than the Olympics. So, she turned her attention, and passion for skiing, to education. As a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America Alpine Team, she has extended her skiing career into a new and exciting area. From a family of educators, Armstrong's passion now resides in passing on her knowledge to other skiers and instructors.
I was lucky she let me hold the medal she won for a few seconds while photographing her last week. But to tell the truth, it was the few minutes I spent visiting with her during the shoot that impressed me the most.
Welcome to Steamboat, Deb. I have no doubt you will continue to impress us all with the same qualities that made you a champion back in 1984.