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It’s Steamboat Springs’ center stage. Perhaps no time in the year are there more eyes up for grabs, more attention apt to be focused than there is on Lincoln Avenue in the minutes leading up to the annual Fourth of July parade.
On Wednesday, for the seventh consecutive year, Steamboat Springs’ favorite sport took that spotlight and reveled in it.
It never gets old.
“Very rarely do we get to showcase what we do in a setting like that, in front of God knows how many people,” U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Todd Lodwick said. “Even though we’re not having firework this year, it’s so awesome to have that support and see that people still came up and still believe in the power of Steamboat.”
Even the competitors find the Fourth of July platform fascinating.
Lodwick also finds it inspiring. He won the Nordic combined event, which began with jumps Tuesday and finished with a cross-country roller-ski race downtown. He skied as if propelled by the competitive spirit that has taken him to five Olympics already and, he confirmed Wednesday, hopefully a sixth in another 18 months.
He started near the front of the pack thanks to strong jumping Tuesday and pulled away from the field early.
“That’s why I do this sport,” he said. “That’s why I train as hard as I do, why I’ve dedicated my life to a sport that doesn’t pay much. I’m excited I’m healthy enough to continue with a sport I love to do.”
He crossed the finish line in front of thousands of onlookers, many of them openly curious about Steamboat’s most unique way of celebrating American independence.
For a sport that has never drawn much of an in-season audience even in Steamboat Springs, the attention is down-right fun.
“No one comes out for our competitions that do actually mean something, but here’s one that doesn’t mean much, but, wow, there were a lot of people,” Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Cliff FIeld said. “That really makes it a highlight. There’s not much to win from this competition other than glory from everybody being around.”
Of course, plenty of the scrutiny comes from those who’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Ski jumping in July? How do they do that? Roller skis? What?
“People always ask me if you can rent them,” Lodwick said about the skis.
“Sometimes people ask about ski jumping and wonder if we land in a pool or the river,” Field said with a laugh.
The day continued with the Ski Jumping Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill, another chance for visitors from across the country to wrap their heads around Steamboat. That included gelande jumping, an Alpine skiing and jumping offshoot even some locals are still trying to understand.
None were better than Steamboat’s own Johnny Spillane. He won in the finals, winning a jump off competition against Lodwick, Billy Demong, Taylor Fletcher, Adam Loomis and Ben Berend in the finals.
He’s been a world champion and has three Olympic silver medals. Those were great victories. Still, he said he never gets tired of Steamboat’s grandest stage.
“It’s fun to have that opportunity and to showcase the sport,” Spillane said. “This is just an exhibition more than a competition, but we love to get those people down here and entertain them for a few hours.”