John Russell's sports column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs It’s going to be hard this winter for Steamboat Springs to top the excitement we witnessed in 2010.
In February, we were all captivated by the success of hometown heroes Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong as they raced to gold and silver in the Nordic combined events at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sure, I know, Demong is not a native of Steamboat, but he’s about as close as you can get without taking your first breath at Yampa Valley Medical Center, and many of us have watched his career unfold and become his friend while he was living in the valley a few years ago.
Truth is that this winter will probably not be as exciting to watch, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
We should be watching Bryan and Taylor Fletcher as they continue to find the confidence needed to become World Cup contenders.
We should also be watching skiers such as Nick Hendrickson, Michael Ward, Cliff Field and Erik Lynch, who will travel to Otepää, Estonia, for the FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships.
Yeah, I know we don’t have to watch. None of these skiers will be crowned Olympic champions this winter, and most of the heat created from last year’s Olympic spotlight has cooled faster than the temperatures outside my door.
But I would argue that most of the excitement of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s showing at last year’s Olympics was created long before the games began.
Most of us were not cheering for Lodwick, Spillane, Demong, Brett Camerota and Taylor Fletcher because we thought they were going to win Olympic medals.
We cheered for them because we all witnessed the journey that took them from the small jump hills at Howelsen Hill to the world stage in places including Salt Lake City; Turin, Italy; and Vancouver, British Columbia. We cried for them when they got hurt or failed to find success. We clapped for them when they raced to victory, and we followed them through the heat of summer training to the chill of a World Cup cross-country course in some small European country.
Last year, we celebrated their success as the Americans proved they are among the world’s elite programs.
This winter, many of the top athletes are not thinking about Olympic glory or even what it will take to get to the Olympics in 2014.
But there is a new group of rising stars that already is taking the steps to place names on the rosters of future Olympic teams. Some of these athletes will make it, others will not. But we never will understand what it takes to be an Olympian unless we take the time to recognize the steps they are taking and take the time to understand the stories behind their journey. We will not understand why everyone is cheering in 2014 if we don’t take the time to watch now.