Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs For a few tantalizing minutes Saturday afternoon, I indulged in the fantasy that by stepping into the bindings of Johnny Spillane’s Atomic World Cup skate skis, I could ski like an Olympian.
That bubble burst when Coach Gary Crawford called out the number on someone else’s raffle ticket.
The occasion was the ninth annual Hakan Memorial Nordic Fest. The theme this year was “Vikings on the Beach,” and it was a chance for families that cross-country ski together to gather for a humongous pig roast and play games on skis. At the same time, all of the participants provided funding to help Steamboat’s best emerging skiers take the next step up in competition.
Spillane donated a pair of his skis (don’t worry, he can get more where those came from), and my quick math suggests his Atomics raised $300 or $400 of Saturday’s take of $2,800.
Michaela Frias, the No. 1 16-year-old female cross-country skier in the world, received a grant of $750, as did Nordic combined skier Cliff Field, who scored Continental Cup points in Austria this winter.
The lucky fellow who got the skis was Grant Andrews. And after I got over my disappointment, I realized that a 12-year-old Nordic combined skier was the ideal person to wrap his mitts around a pair of Spillane’s magic sticks and cherish them forever.
“It’s great to know an Olympian in town,” Grant said. “It was great to watch one of your friends win Olympic medals, and it’s great to train with him.”
Let’s just freeze-frame that comment and analyze it for a moment. Did you realize that 12-year-olds in Steamboat casually mention that Spillane, the triple silver-medal-winning skier from the 2010 Winter Olympics, is one of their buds? How empowering must that be?
Everywhere I looked Saturday, there were energized young skiers who carried themselves with enthusiasm and confidence. And why shouldn’t they? If Spillane, Todd Lodwick, Brett Camerota, Billy Demong and Taylor Fletcher can go to the Olympics, why shouldn’t they? It’s not just a dream. Whether they overcome all of the hurdles needed to reach the Olympics, or settle for learning many of life’s most valuable lessons, success is a realistic expectation for all of the youngsters who get to rub shoulders with Olympic veterans at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Fletcher, who was 19 when he went to his first Olympic games in February, put it into perspective.
“Last year, I was one of them,” he said, looking out at the happy gang of young Nordic skiers at the Steamboat Springs Touring Center. “It shows the club is producing top-of-the-line skiers. Michaela and Cliff have proven they have the talent, dedication and courage to go on.”
“It’s a big deal to travel across the ocean and fight every weekend in competition,” Fletcher said.
None of the courageous skiers at the Nordic Fest went home empty-handed on Saturday. There was a banquet table heaped high with some of the best schwag I have ever set my eyes on. Fletcher unpacked rolling duffels stuffed with pristine competition bibs from all over Europe, bright red U.S. Ski Team uniforms and heaps of warm-ups plastered with sponsor logos.
Any 10-, 11- or 12-year-old who shows up at a competition next winter wearing some of that gear is going to scare the heck out of his and her rivals.