John F. Russell: Steamboat athletes and Olympic fans are following the road to Sochi, Russia

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— I can’t believe that it’s been 3 1/2 years. I can’t believe that in just a few months, a new group of Steamboat Springs Olympians will carry on the time-honored tradition that makes our town stand apart. I can’t believe that we are on the eve of the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.

After years of covering the Olympics, I’ve come to understand the process that goes into creating an Olympic athlete. It doesn’t happen overnight, and involves years of hard work and dedication. I’ve come to understand the emotions, the drive and the dreams that will unfold during the next few months, and I fully appreciate what it takes to become an Olympian.

There is one more summer of training and a few fleeting days on the snow before many athletes in Steamboat face the moment of truth. Many will fail to make the cut, and for those who make it, the chance of disappointment is a risk they are willing to take.

The journey can seem ruthless from the outside. I’ve pulled for more than a few athletes who never will become Olympians. Athletes who have displayed the heart it takes to reach that level but didn’t have the results when it counted most.

Although they failed to earn the right to compete as an Olympian, they are a part of the magic that surrounds the Olympic Games. Without them, and without the process, becoming an Olympian would be less rewarding. It’s this process that separates the Olympian from the rest of the pack and the pack that makes becoming an Olympian so special.

I’m sure that Steamboat will have dozen of athletes bidding for Olympic teams in 2014, and I will be pulling for all of them. But there are a few that stand out for me, a few that I will be cheering for a little harder as the games draw closer.

I’m already pulling for Bryan and Taylor Fletcher to make the Nordic combined roster, but that’s a tough call with several Olympic veterans including Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick, in the mix. I want to see them all have success this winter, and I want them all to bring home medals once again.

I’m also pulling for Alpine snowboarders Justin Reiter and Vik Wild. Reiter has been there before only to have the rug pulled out from under him in the final stretch. But his love of the sport has kept him relevant in non-Olympic years.

Wild’s journey is intriguing to say the least. He recently married a Russian girl and relocated to Moscow. He is hoping for an Olympic berth in 2014, but he will be representing Russia.

It’s hard not to pull for the American Alpine snowboarders who continue to compete without the support of the U.S. Ski Team. I want them to find Olympic success because they will have earned it on their own. It truly is a great American story, even if one of the riders I’m pulling for could be representing Russia.

I also will be cheering many other athletes, including freestyle skiers Eliza Outtrim and Jeremy Cota, and I will be hoping for a few surprises from several young snowboarders, including Matt Ladley and Arielle Gold.

Who knows what will happen in the next few months as we move closer to the Olympic Games, but I have little doubt that the list of athletes I’m pulling for will grow. If history is any guide, there also will be plenty of expectations and surprises along the way.

But there is no question that the road leads to the Olympics, and if athletes wants to compete in 2014, they are going to have to follow it and discover whether it will help them reach their dreams.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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