John F. Russell: Olympic stories unfold in Ski Town USA
Steamboat Springs — Once every four Februaries, the world turns on its TVs and waits for the special stories that will unfold at the Winter Olympic Games.
It’s no surprise that during the course of two weeks, the Olympics give an endless supply of heartwarming moments and stories that capture our imagination and that reveal athletes who earn our respect.
The Olympics are a testament to the men and women who have spent their lives pursuing Olympic glory. They do it on the frozen playing surfaces that elude the attention of most Americans and without the kind of compensation top-level athletes have come to expect.
It doesn’t matter whether they are ski racers or ski jumpers, figure skaters or speed skaters, biathletes or just plain winter athletes. They all produce amazing stories built on determination, perseverance and the frustration that comes from living outside the limited attention span of most sports fans.
Throughout the next year, a few of these stories and the athletes behind them will start to emerge. I’m not sure they will catch the interest of mainstream sports enthusiasts, but I’m hopeful.
The funny thing is, some of the best Olympic stories happen outside the Olympic spotlight. The stories will be written in the journey to get to 2010, and sadly more than a few of the stories will be lost long before the games officially start. The stories of the athletes who failed to achieve their Olympic dreams are lost more quickly than a dollar in Las Vegas.
Some athletes will walk away because of injury, others will run out of money, and some will simply fail to make the cut. But when those athletes walk away from their dreams, the story ends – in many cases before it is told.
The 2010 Olympic Games are still 13 months away, and already the stories of athletes in Steamboat Springs are starting to unfold – such as Todd Lodwick’s bid to return to the U.S. Nordic Combined Team after retiring in 2006, or Alpine ski racer Caroline Lalive’s drive to restart a career that has been sidelined by a string of injuries.
The always colorful Tyler Jewell seems to be on track for a second Olympic appearance, but we all know that is never guaranteed. His teammate Justin Reiter just elected to undergo knee surgery in a pivotal year, hoping to improve his chances of an Olympic appearance.
These are the stories that make the Olympic Games so special, and I have no doubt that when the games land in Vancouver in 2010, there will be plenty to entertain a large TV audience.
But the fact is that these stories don’t just happen once every four years. They happen every day in places like Steamboat Springs. Places where young athletes are working winter and summer for a chance to tell us their story.
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As the snow melting off the peaks surrounding Steamboat Springs feeds the Yampa River, rafters, canoeists, kayakers and paddle boarders are trying to make the most of it.