Our View: Steamboat community has worked toward medal
February 17, 2010
How does your Olympic silver medal feel, Steamboat Springs?
A whole lot of people in this community were a bundle of nerves Sunday, waiting to see if 2010 was going to be the year that dreams came true for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team. A whole lot of people — people who could rattle off the team members' names and list still other great Nordic skiers, people who have seen those skiers in the supermarket and at the post office and on Howelsen Hill — were praying that these guys would be the ones to break the Olympic medal drought for U.S. Nordic combined teams.
And the gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, hair-yanking cross-country race did not disappoint them.
When the powder cleared Sunday afternoon, it left a spot on the second-place podium for an American. And it wasn't just any American. It was one of our Americans, Steamboat: Johnny Spillane. And this whole town was right up there with him.
Spillane and his teammates worked incredibly hard to reach the pinnacle of their sport, and they'll work hard to excel at the two remaining Nordic combined events Feb. 23 and 25. Their success so far, however, is the culmination of their efforts and the support from this entire community, dating to the days of Carl Howelsen.
For much of the rest of the country, Nordic combined skiing came out of the woodwork this year. The New York Times published stories like "Athletes in low-profile sports savor spotlight." Jim Caple, of ESPN.com, wrote a great column explaining that with Spillane's medal, "America now is a true Winter Olympian."
We as a community can grin and say, "We know."
Nordic combined skiing is a mainstay for the wintry countries in Europe. Indeed, that's where the top U.S. Nordic skiers often find themselves, spending time away from their families training and competing on the World Cup circuit overseas. But in the United States, Steamboat has rallied behind Nordic combined skiing when no one else seemed interested.
The men and women who strived to raise money to keep the Nordic team going have earned a piece of this victory. The families who camp out at Howelsen all winter, supporting with their hearts and dollars the Steamboat tradition, have earned a piece of this victory. The people who promoted Nordic combined by coaching young skiers, hunting media coverage, setting up fences and marking the spot on the hill where jumpers land — all have earned a piece of this victory.
Former Nordic combined coach Tom Steitz summed it up after Spillane's finish: "This has to be one of the greatest days in Steamboat's history. The town, the Steamboat ski corporation, the city at one time, a lot of private people, a lot of businesses and everyone has poured a lot into this."
We need to remember how this feels, to remind ourselves to continue those efforts.
Spillane's victory brings attention to Steamboat Springs, Ski Town USA, where we love our Nordic athletes (and all the rest of them, too). The victory gives newcomers a dramatic example of how a town can come together and share part of an Olympic dream.
Let's not let it stop there. Competitors in various winter sports continue to need our support. Telemark World Cup races will be in Steamboat starting Sunday. Western collegiate regionals are scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27 at Steamboat Ski Area and Howelsen Hill, and the NCAA Championships are here from March 10 to 13. And the Steamboat tradition continues with the Junior Olympic Rocky Mountain Division Nordic combined team; all but one member train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. They'll compete here from March 2 to 6 in the Junior Olympics.
We encourage everyone in Steamboat to enjoy Spillane's historic victory and to honor the decades of work that went into it. To the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team: Thanks for making us proud. Good luck up there.