John F. Russell: Here’s a good story

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— We came to British Columbia hoping to tell the stories of the athletes who call, or have called, Steamboat Springs their home.

Olympic athletes are not unusual in Steamboat, where the next generation of world-class athletes always seems to be around the corner. For generations, our town has produced wave after wave of Olym­­­pic stars, including medal winners like Nelson Car­­­mich­­­ael and Travis Mayer in freestyle skiing and Shan­­­non Dunn in snowboarding.

But this class of Steamboat Olympians is unique. In the hills surrounding Vancouver, British Columbia, American Nordic combined stars John­ny Spillane, Billy De­­mong and Todd Lodwick captured the heart of the country they represent and wrote a chapter in our town’s, and our country’s, Olympic heritage that will be hard to match.

In a period of 12 days, they raced to six Olympic medals. Spillane found a silver lining in Whistler that must have made his wife, Hilary, very happy. He brought home silver, the first Olympic medal for an American in the sport of Nordic combined, in the normal hill individual Gundersen event on Valentine’s Day. He also won the silver medal in the large hill individual Gundersen event on her birthday, Feb. 25. Between those dates, he added a third silver medal to his collection in the team event. During these Olympics, Spillane doubled the Olympic medal count in our town all by himself, and his first silver ended a drought for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team that stretched 86 years.

But the story doesn’t end there.

His teammate Demong, who is from Vermontville, N.Y., but spent several years living and training in Steamboat Springs, brought home two medals of his own. He also was part of the team that raced to silver, but more important, he won the gold in the large hill individual Gundersen event. His gold was the first for an American Nordic combined skier.

Then there was the third member of the big three. Lodwick didn’t score in the individual events, but after years of top results on the World Cup and two World Championship gold medals, Lodwick also has something to cheer about. He was part of the second-place American squad in the team event and finally earned the Olympic medal he’s long deserved.

These stories may have unfolded here in Canada, but they started so long ago in the shadows of Steamboat Springs’ historic Howelsen Hill. The characters found inspiration in places such as Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah, and honed their skills on jumps around the world. The story line was bittersweet at times, with plot twists in Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Turin, Italy, in 2006.

But in the end, this tear-jerking story finally found a happy ending at Whistler O­­lym­­pic Park. Who knows where it will go from here, but let’s all hope for sequels in Oslo, Nor­­way, in 2011, and Sochi, Rus­­sia, four years from now.

That’s another story that I’m really hoping to tell.

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