John F. Russell: Sochi Olympics shine light on what's important in sports

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— What can I say, I’m a huge fan of the sports that highlight the Winter Olympic Games.

My life has been enriched by the time I have spent covering sports that most people who live in the United States don’t understand and rarely pay any attention to when they can watch professional football, basketball and hockey.

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’ve spent the better part of my career retelling the stories of the athletes who will never be common household names. I’ve sat in an Olympic press conference with a room full of big-time newspaper reporters who had no idea who Travis Mayer was even after he had won the silver medal in moguls at the 2002 Olympics. They were there to write about Jonny Moseley’s dinner roll, or the football playing skier Jeremy Bloom. I’ve also followed the sometimes surreal life of the member’s of the U.S. Alpine snowboarding team who often compete well outside most reporters' normal beats.

And I’ve been rewarded.

I’ve had the chance to meet great people, I’ve been given great opportunities like going to the Olympics and I’ve been able to pass along some really cool stories throughout the years.

I’ve got to watch as the Nordic combined team grabbed the attention of our country, if only once every four years, and I've have followed athletes including Johnny Spillane, Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick as they broke through the barriers and pushed their sport outside the city-limits of places like Steamboat Springs, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah.

Everybody knows Shaun White as a top American freestyle snowboarder. But for me, the best stories can be found covering Alpine snowboarding — freestyle’s lesser known cousin. Alpine seems to have less curb appeal, but the athletes share the same passion.

I was happy to tell the story of Alpine snowboarder Tyler Jewell in summer 2005 when he was living in a tent just outside of Steamboat Springs. He represented the U.S at two Olympic Games in 2006 and 2010, but the real story was about what he sacrificed to make the team.

This year another Alpine snowboarder earned the title of Olympian, and Justin Reiter’s story also is remarkable. His journey to become an Olympian stretches across the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and when he made the team this week it brought a smile to my face.

Not because another member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club will get a shot at Olympic glory, but because his passion for his sport and his determination to make it is something every American should be proud of.

Reiter battled through injuries leading up to the 2006 Games and wasn’t able to post the results needed at the right time. He looked strong leading up to the 2010 Games in Vancouver, but the year before the games, he was in intense pain, and his season ended when he underwent surgery to reconstruct his patella tendon, which connects the quadriceps thigh muscle to the tibia below the knee.

It looked like the end of the Olympic road for Reiter, but in the last four years, he has rebounded, and last week he learned he was an Olympian — something he has dreamed of since he was 9 years old.

In Sochi, lots of athletes will step from the shadows and into the spotlight. For some, that fame will last long after the Games have closed, but for most, it will be fleeting. It’s the athletes' stories that make the Olympic Games something I look forward to watching. For these athletes, success is measured in the journey, not medals.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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