Steamboat Springs Many of the people had been standing in the cold along Lincoln Avenue for an hour before first-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher was asked to step onto the stage, which had been set up for Steamboat’s Olympic Send-off & Community Celebration on Friday evening.
But once Fletcher stepped into the spotlight, the crowd let out an enthusiastic cheer, reminding the young Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier just how lucky he is to be from Ski Town USA.
“It’s unreal. … There were 5,000 people out there cheering for me and everyone else who was on that stage,” Fletcher said after the ceremony. “It’s awesome because I know I will have the support from the whole city of Steamboat Springs when we get to Vancouver. … I know that people will be rooting for me and rooting for our team.”
Fletcher was just one of the Olympians who took the stage for Friday night’s send-off. The long list of athletes included Nelson Carmichael, Billy Kidd and the entire U.S. Nordic combined squad headed to Vancouver, British Columbia, in less than a week. Loris Werner, Todd Wilson and Gary Crawford also were on hand, alongside a large sampling of the more than 80 athletes who have ties to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
The program lasted just more than an hour, and Drew Soicher, a 9News sports anchor out of Denver, was the master of ceremonies.
Most of the crowd arrived early, but by the time the events got under way at 6:30 p.m., Lincoln Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets was shoulder to shoulder. It also was standing room only on the courthouse lawn.
“This is like our opening ceremonies,” said Billy Demong, a Nordic combined skier who will make his fourth trip to the Olympics.
Demong said he was inspired when a group of fifth-grade students from Soda Creek Elementary School sang the national anthem.
“When those kids were singing the national anthem, I think all of us started to feel it. We are going to go. It’s going to happen. This is the kick-off for sure,” Demong said.
Chris Kaminski, 12, showed up early to show his support for Steamboat’s Olympians but wasn’t ready to commit to one athlete.
“I’m not sure which one is my favorite,” Chris said. “My favorite is probably Todd Lodwick, but I like them all.”
Chris also said he was excited to take in the Flying Ace Productions trampoline show, which featured former Steamboat Springs Olympic aerialist Kris Feddersen. Feddersen, who competed at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, now runs the Flying Ace All Stars.
“I want to see the trampoline show,” Chris said before the celebration. “There are supposed to be some former Olympic aerialists, and I really want to see that.”
For Fletcher and the other Olympic athletes who crowded the stage, which had been set up in the middle of Lincoln, the crowd, the cheers and the whole send-off were a great way to boost confidence before leaving for their shot at Olympic glory.
“I was lucky to grow up in this town,” Fletcher said. “This is the best town to grow up in for skiing.”
He said the town’s Olympic heritage, and that he was able to see Olympic athletes like Lodwick, Demong and Johnny Spillane almost every day when he was training at Howelsen Hill made the idea that he could get to the Olympics realistic.
“It’s unreal to have this community and to have this support,” Fletcher said.
He said he would take the energy from Friday’s send-off with him to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which kick off in less than a week in Vancouver’s 60,000-seat BC Place Stadium.
But Friday’s send-off proved that the Olympic spirit already is burning in downtown Steamboat Springs.