Olympians to visit troops | SteamboatToday.com

Olympians to visit troops

Nordic combined team will travel to meet, greet US forces

Luke Graham

The members of the silver-medal winning U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, shown celebrating Feb. 23 during the flower ceremony at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia, will go abroad to meet with U.S. troops next month. From left are Brett Camerota, Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong.

— The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team — winners of seven Olympic medals — will take part in the Armed Forces Enter­tainment "Olympic Heavy Medal Tour" in early April.

The tour will take Olympic medalists Johnny Spillane, Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota on a special tour to visit troops at U.S. military bases around the globe.

Because of military rules, the exact locations could not be revealed.

"As these Olympians will tell you, there is an enormous sense of pride in representing your country at the Olympic Games," U.S. Air Force Col. Ed Shock, the chief of Armed Forces Entertainment, said in a news release. "That same sense of pride is what drives the troops of the United States daily, and to bring these two teams together will be a real treat."

Rob Powers, founder of The Warrior Tours, will lead the tour. Troops will be able to ask the four Nordic combined athletes questions, inspect their medals and interact with them.

"It will mostly be meet-and-greets," said Jennifer Milikien, a public affairs officer with Armed Forces Entertainment. "They'll take their medals over for them to see. We want to be able to share that with the troops. The majority of the reason we do it is we're putting them in harm's way every day. It boosts morale and gives them a taste of home overseas."

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The U.S. Nordic combined team is coming off its most successful Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Johnny Spillane started it by winning a silver medal in the normal hill Gundersen event. That was followed by a silver medal in the four-person team event before Demong took gold and Spillane took silver in the large hill Gundersen event.

"We're blessed to have the opportunity to compete on the world's largest sporting stage and return home from the 2010 Winter Olympics with a heavy medal load," Spillane said in the release. "Now it's time to show the world who the true heroes are."

The Nordic combined team is expected to compete in the final World Cup of the season Friday and Saturday in Oslo, Norway. The team will then return home before coming back to Steamboat for a Hometown Heroes Celebration.

Plans are taking shape for that event, which will honor local Winter Olympians with communitywide festivities. The primary event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 2 in downtown Steamboat Springs, where city crews will put snow on Lincoln Avenue for a parade featuring the athletes, the Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band and more.

Andy Wirth, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said the parade would lead to a stage in front of the Routt County Courthouse on Lincoln Avenue, with a jumbo screen, in a setup similar to that of the Olympic Send-Off in February except the stage will have its back to Mount Werner.

Earlier April 2, athletes are scheduled to visit Steamboat's two public elementary schools and Steamboat Springs Middle School for assemblies. A public meet-and-greet with athletes is from 2 to 5 p.m. in Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill.

Groups including the city, Ski Corp., the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club are collaborating on the Hometown Heroes Celebration.

"We have a very broad level of participation," Wirth said.

Reporter Mike Lawrence contributed to this story.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com