World champion, 3-time Olympic medalist Johnny Spillane announces retirement
April 18, 2013
Steamboat Springs — All good things must come to an end.
The announcement Wednesday that Nordic combined skier Johnny Spillane has decided to retire from the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team means an end to a career that spans four Winter Olympic Games and includes medals from the 2003 World Championships, where he won gold, and the 2010 Olympics, where he won three silvers.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Spillane said Thursday. "Every spring, I evaluate the past year and ask myself what I want to do. This year, I looked back and decided it was time to move on."
Last season, Spillane got off to a slow start because of back problems and struggled to find top results as he adjusted to new FIS rules that impacted ski length, jump suits and athlete body mass index. He posted a couple of top-30 finishes and was 22nd at a World Cup in Germany, but he did not enjoy the top results he's had for most of his career.
Despite a challenging season, Spillane said, he feels like he still has what it takes to be competitive on the World Cup level. However, he also admits that reaching that level means sacrificing time with his wife, Hilary, and his daughters, Hadley, 2, and Genevieve, who will turn 1 in May.
"This is going to have on impact on the team," coach Dave Jarrett said Thursday. "He's a three-time Olympic silver medalist who is capable of doing it again. We knew this day was coming. It comes for everyone."
Jarrett said Spillane's departure means the team will lose a wealth of experience and knowledge and a personality that inspired others.
"Johnny brought a tremendous work ethic, and he expressed his leadership on this team through example," Jarrett said. "The guys followed him because he was willing to suffer, willing to do whatever it took to win and willing to go for it all the time."
Spillane's career stretches to the late 1990s when he was part of a strong group of skiers that won the Junior World Championships in Saalfelden, Austria, in 1999. The group included Olympic gold medalist Bill Demong along with Olympic athletes Carl Van Loan and Jed Hinkley. That same group won a silver medal the following year in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia.
Spillane said the win set the tone for his career.
Throughout the next several years, he developed into one of the top Nordic combined athletes in the country and put together an impressive 2003 season that branded him as one of the team's best.
That year, Spillane finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions and won a gold medal in the large hill individual event at the World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. The World Championship was the first for an American in the sport of Nordic combined. It was the type of performance that helped the team move past a heartbreaking fourth-place finish at the 2002 Olympic Games. Spillane finished that race sprawled on the ground at the Soldier Hollow cross-country complex in Utah. It was a race that Spillane, and the other members of the team, never would forget. He said the disappointment of that day helped fuel his desire to find success in the years that followed.
He made up for it in 2010 when the Americans dominated the Nordic combined events at Whistler Olympic Park. Spillane raced to second place to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in Nordic combined in the individual normal hill event. It was the opening event for the Nordic combined skiers and set the stage for the Americans.
A few days later, the team followed suit by bringing home the silver medal in the team event. Brett Camerota led off the race, followed by Lodwick, Spillane and Demong.
The Americans wrapped up the 2010 Olympics with another historic showing, and once again Spillane played a part in writing the team's history. Spillane collected his third silver medal placing behind Demong, who won gold, in the large hill.
But in a career filled with incredible highs, Spillane also was faced with many challenges. He missed most of the 2005 season with a back injury, was sidelined for large chunks of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons with shoulder problems and missed much of the 2009 season with a knee injury. That year, teammates Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong each won World Championship medals. Spillane gave it a go but finished out of the medal hunt.
He said injuries were just a part of his decision to retire. In the end, his desire to spend more time with his family outweighed his desire to chase more medals. He said he also plans to get back to the river working as a fishing guide for Steamboat Flyfisher.
"Johnny is a guy who was always giving back, always helping kids, and me especially," teammate Bryan Fletcher said. "For me, growing up and looking up at Johnny, he was instrumental in my growing up and maturing. You look up to those guys, and if they’re not reaching back, giving back to the community, you'll always be looking up at them. Johnny always has done such a great job of making his success feel tangible to the younger kids. I'm really grateful for that."
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com