Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane steps onto the podium at Howelsen Hill after winning the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Nordic combined race Wednesday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane steps onto the podium at Howelsen Hill after winning the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Nordic combined race Wednesday.

Through ups and downs, Spillane stays strong

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Spillane's win at Olympic Trials in Steamboat

Johnny Spillane won the Nordic combined event Wednesday during the 2010 U.S. Olympic Trials in Steamboat Springs.

Johnny Spillane won the Nordic combined event Wednesday during the 2010 U.S. Olympic Trials in Steamboat Springs.

As Steamboat’s Johnny Spillane stood around explaining to a throng of reporters about injury after injury and surgery after surgery, there was a subtle yet confident tone in his voice.

Spillane, who won the 2010 U.S. Winter Olympic Team Trials Nordic combined event Wednesday after outracing fellow U.S. Ski Team member Todd Lodwick, seems to be in a good place entering the heart of the competition season.

His early results prove that point.

Spillane has two top-seven finishes on the World Cup circuit this year to go along with his win Wednesday. And to think his equipment didn’t even show up from Austria until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

But for Spillane, the difference in this year and years past may have come this summer — when his body finally started to get healthy.

The 2003 World Champion has had seven surgeries since 2003. There are the five surgeries on his shoulders, two on his knees and multiple herniated discs in his back. Five of those surgeries were season-ending.

The latest came when he hurt his knee in July at the Ski Jumping Extravaganza in Steamboat. He had surgery in August and then again in October.

Considering his dog Hayduke died on the day he had the knee surgery in October, it’s fair to say it was a rough summer for Spillane.

But because he couldn’t put any weight on his knee and could only rehab, the time allowed the rest of his body to heal. So he spent much of his summer hunting and fishing.

“I think he’s just well-rested,” Spillane’s wife, Hilary, said after Wednesday’s competition. “I think it was good for him to take a little break. Mentally, he’s doing a lot better. He’s in a good spot. It was a hard summer with the two surgeries. But he went in with no expectations. Just mentally, he’s in a better spot.”

He’s also providing evidence that the United States could very well be the Nordic combined favorites come the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

There, the Americans could have three skiers — Spillane, Lodwick and Bill Demong — each capable of medaling. Lodwick and Demong are 2009 Nordic combined world champions. With a healthy Spillane, anything’s possible.

“I don’t think anybody knew — not even him,” Demong said about Spillane’s status entering the 2009-10 season. “But he stayed relaxed and did the things he knew he could do without pushing his limits. He’s amazed us. … He’s the top guy right now. He adds a third guy we can rely on being on the podium.”

And while the talk was all about Demong and Lodwick at last season’s World Championships, Wednesday proved to be Spillane’s day.

“It’s just been a constant battle to be healthy,” Spillane said. “It’s taken away from what I think I could have accomplished in those years. At the same time, I still had good results, and I still enjoy doing the sport. Now to feel like it’s all coming together a little bit as we head into the Olympics is nice.”

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