Hundreds of elementary students march in honor of Steamboat’s Olympic heritage (video) | SteamboatToday.com

Hundreds of elementary students march in honor of Steamboat’s Olympic heritage (video)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The faint chant of “USA, USA, USA” could be heard cutting through the cold mountain air in Steamboat Springs Thursday.

The sound grew louder and louder as hundreds of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Soda Creek Elementary and Emerald Mountain schools made their way through the streets of downtown to the base of historic Howelsen Hill, home of more than 88 Olympic athletes. 

By the time students reached the end of their march, the echoes of their voices filled the air and cheers erupted like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

"I think it is really rare," said Olympian Chris Puckett, who competed in Alpine skiing and was one of five Olympic athletes who attended Thursday’s Olympic March and celebration. "I grew up in Crested Butte, and they don't do anything like this. To see that this is a big enough deal to get all these kids out here is incredible, and I think it's important for the children to hear these things no matter how they apply it."

Puckett, who competed in the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France, was joined by snowboarder Erin Simmons Nemec, a snowboard cross racer from Canada who competed in the 2006 Olympics in Turin; Bobby Aldighieri, who competed in moguls at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France; Ann Battelle, who competed in moguls at the 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics Games; and Nordic combined skier Todd Wilson, who competed in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics.

"It's really fun, and it gives the kids a chance to get a global perspective about what's going on at the Olympics," fifth-grade teacher Andrew Miller said. "We talked about what happens at the (Steamboat Springs) Winter Sports Club and our Steamboat link to the Olympic,s and to combine that with an international scope and give them a little bit different perspective, the kids really seemed to enjoy that."

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The Olympians who attended also embraced the chance to interact with the young students.

"This is totally cool," Battelle said. "The kids are so excited, and they get to learn about all the different countries, and it is really fun to share the  passion for your sport as well as the passion we all have for the Olympics. It was my life for so many years, and it's kind of nice to talk about it, share my experiences and hopefully, inspire some of these guys to pursue their dreams."

The Olympians found themselves back in the spotlight signing everything and anything the students brought to them.

One student asked Aldighieri to take a break from answering questions to sign his forehead — a first for the athlete who traveled the world while competing for the United States. He also coached the Canadian Freestyle Teams at the Olympic Games after leaving the national team. 

"It's awesome," Aldighieri said of the event. "For us to be able to pass this on … It's unbelievably special. I really, really hope that these guys are inspired, and they want to do it, and they want to try hard."

There was no question that many of the young students were inspired by the chance to meet some of their Olympic heroes.

"It was fun to listen to all the Olympians talk about how they did it and what they had to do to get there," fifth-grader Michael Vandervender said. "Now I know what I need to do. I need to train and go on the slopes more often.”

Nemec, who was joined on stage by her son who is in the fourth grade at Soda Creek, said she would not have missed this event.

"It gets the kids excited and excited to watch the Opening Ceremonies tonight and to really kind of invest into watching the Olympics," Nemec said. 

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