Our View: Way to go, Nordic skiers
February 28, 2010
After more than two weeks of excitement, joy and disappointment, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are scheduled to close tonight in Vancouver, British Columbia. When all the fanfare dies down, athletes from the United States will carry home dozens of gold, silver and bronze souvenirs.
The most significant to Steamboat Springs will be the three silver and one gold medal for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team.
As the community prepared for the Olympics, Steamboat area residents knew this could be a good year. We celebrated and sent off more than a dozen athletes with local ties, knowing each would do his or her best to represent the country on a global stage.
Expectations for the Nordic skiers had gone through the roof. The team — Brett Camerota, Billy Demong, Taylor Fletcher, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane — knew it. The veterans had been racking up World Cup podiums for years, but the United States team had never brought home Olympic hardware.
"We are at the top of our game right now," Lodwick said before they left. "I feel like we are going to these games with a much bigger goal in mind."
Luckily, the shoulders of the Nordic combined skiers never sagged under the weight of those expectations.
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In fact, Billy Demong hypothesized that the sky-high goals might help. He said this before the games:
"In some ways, those expectations helped boost us to try and find the confidence and belief to be Olympic medalists. We have had a ton of first-evers and major results that were spawned by our dedication to becoming the best Nordic combined team in the world and those expectations."
Spillane did it first with his silver medal in the normal hill individual Gundersen event Feb. 14. He and Camerota, Demong and Lodwick took America's first Olympic team medal in the team event Tuesday, another silver.
And then came the kicker, the icing, the final "they're seriously this good" moment. Demong and Spillane powered past Austrian skier Bernhard Gruber on Thursday to win gold and silver in an exhilarating cross-country race at the large hill individual Gundersen event. Spillane fell to his hip toward the end of the race — Steamboat let out a collective gasp — and still came out second best in the world. Demong surged to his gold medal like a man on a life-or-death mission.
All eyes were on those men Thursday. In a town full of athletes and skiers, they served as a reminder that hard work and determination can pull you to the top. Hundreds of young skiers now have more local Olympic heroes to look up to for inspiration.
So we salute all the athletes who train long, grueling hours to excel at their sport. We applaud all of those who made Olympic teams and did their best on tough courses in challenging weather.
But we are particularly proud of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and the Steamboat athletes who compete on it. In addition to being great and celebrated athletes, they are humble men who have a genuine understanding of all that it took to get them to this point: their families, their coaches, the community and more.
They went to Vancouver and made history for the sport and our nation, making it impossible for America to ignore Nordic combined skiing.
There may be many more Olympic medals in the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team's future. But there never will be another first.