John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs To the outsider, it might seem as though Steamboat Springs snowboarder Mimi Wiencke was racing for herself in the first NorAm events of the season earlier this week in Copper Mountain.
It might have seemed as though she was there to win a title, or to secure a WorLd Cup spot or simply to win a race against some of the best Alpine snowboarders in the world.
But Mimi is racing for a lot more than just herself.
She is part of a small group of American snowboarders who are racing to make sure that Alpine snowboarding continues to grow and thrive in the United States. The group includes several riders with ties to Steamboat Springs, including Mike Trapp, Justin Reiter, Tyler Jewell and Maggie Rose Carrigan. These athletes love their sport and understand that their results might be the fuel that the next generation needs to complete the journey back into the spotlight.
“I’m not just racing for myself anymore,” Wiencke said last week. “I’m racing for the future of the sport.”
There is no question that Alpine snowboard racing has hit a rough patch in the United States. In fact, at the World Cup level, support for American riders is fading faster than the late-afternoon sun.
American riders still are competing around the world, but they have been forced to foot the bill and to find their way to the top without the aid of the U.S. Ski Team despite the fact parallel slalom has been added to the menu of events for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But that doesn’t mean these riders are competing without any support or that the sport is on its last legs.
Thedo Remmelink, arguably one of the most respected names in the sport, is doing what he can with the help of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Although athletes have found many shut doors across the country, the door still is wide open in Steamboat Springs, where the sport has found a home. He sees a bright future for the sport as well as local riders who still dream of competing for titles on the World Cup and representing their country at the Olympic Games.
“This sport is still thriving at the grass-roots level,” Remmelink said.
He credits the USASA for providing a stage for young athletes to compete and fall in love with the sport. Someday, he hopes that the enthusiasm of those young athletes will be shared by the entire country and by the organizations that support athletes at the top levels.
To the outsider, it might seem like there is no reason for an Alpine snowboarder to keep racing in our country.
But as long as there still is a chance to reach the Olympic Games, today’s Alpine snowboarding stars will continue to race, continue to fight for recognition and continue to reach for the top results that will earn them funding for their dreams and bring new life into the sport they love.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com