John F. Russell: World Championships offer Olympic-sized opportunity | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: World Championships offer Olympic-sized opportunity

— Maybe it's not the Olympics, but the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are sure to bring the sport's best athletes and the sport's biggest fans to the mountains of Colorado this February.

This will be the third time since 1989 that Vail has hosted the championships, and it's just one of four U.S. cities that can claim to be a venue for one of the biggest events in Alpine skiing.

Aspen was the site of the 11th annual World Skiing Championships in 1950, Squaw Valley was the site of the 16th annual World Ski Championships in 1960 and Lake Placid also hosted the World Championships in 1980. But in Squaw Valley and Lake Placid, the World Championships were part of the Olympic Games, and not a stand-alone event.

After the Lake Placid Games, the World Championships were separated from the Olympic Games, and now these championships only take place in non-Olympic years.

Vail and Aspen are the only two American cities that have hosted the championships, and not been a site for the Olympic Games.

This year's 2015 Alpine World Championships actually will be held in Vail and neighboring Beaver Creek. The races are an important stop for the elite World Cup-level skiers who dream of bringing home a World Championship crown.

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But more importantly, the event will offer Colorado a rare opportunity to shine in the international spotlight once again. It also will be a chance for ski racing fans from Steamboat and across Colorado to be within driving distance of witnessing what top international skiing events look like.

The only thing bigger than the World Championships is the Olympic Games, and after what happened in 1976, it's hard to imagine the International Olympic Committee is bringing its marquee event back to our mountains.

I was lucky enough to be at the finish line of the Olympic downhill in 2010 when Lindsey Vonn raced to a gold medal. The moments after she crossed the finish line left an impression on me that still lasts to this day.

So yes it's true — the World Championships are not the Olympic Games, but it's the closest thing we may ever get to experience in Colorado.

My guess is that the feelings and the emotions that fill the air at the finish line of an Olympic ski race and a World Championship ski race are pretty much the same — as is the experience of watching those events unfold from the stands that surround the finish area.

So when the World Championships open this February, I expect to find the same level of excitement, the same level of competition and the same lavish venues that you might expect to find at the Olympic Games.

So it might not be the Olympic Games, but I would be willing to bet that the events will be worth the hour and a half drive to get there.

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