Steamboat crowd shares tears of joy |

Steamboat crowd shares tears of joy

Nordic thunder rolls in Olympian Hall at Howelsen Lodge

Carla Von Thaden, of Steamboat Springs, who is Johnny Spillane’s aunt, rings her cowbell for the three-time Olympic silver medalist at Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill Lodge on Thursday afternoon.
Tom Ross

Carla Von Thaden, of Steamboat Springs, who is Johnny Spillane’s aunt, rings her cowbell for the three-time Olympic silver medalist at Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill Lodge on Thursday afternoon.
Tom Ross

— Billy Demong thrust his fist in the air Thursday afternoon, and Olympian Hall erupted in an eardrum-thumping sonic blast, followed almost immediately by a secondary explosion when Johnny Spillane crossed the finish line to give the United States a Nordic daily double in Whistler, British Columbia.

Demong won America’s first Nordic combined Olympic gold, and Spillane added depth to the treasure chest with his third silver of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. For a crowd of almost 300 that was salted with past Nordic combined Olympians, relatives, coaches and confidants who watched the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) cross-country skate race unfold on a jumbo screen, it was time for an emotional release.

“I’m just shaking, and I can’t get a hold of myself,” Spillane’s aunt Carla Von Thaden said after the race. “I’m so happy for Billy. Johnny fell down and still took the damn silver!”

Everywhere one looked, there were moist eyes and hugs.

Rick DeVos, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club executive director, put the Olympic performance in perspective as he gestured at the brightly colored flags hanging from the ceiling trusses, one for every Steamboat Olympian.

“Part of the culture here is celebrating these heroes and champions. This is one of the real highlights. For all of the kids in this program and this community, to know these boys and watch them accomplish this in the final event, it’s a miracle that’s going to last a long time.”

Nordic combined Olympian Todd Wilson, now the Winter Sports Club’s Nordic director, settled his nerves by fiddling with his laptop before the race and plotting strategy.

“Johnny and Billy need to work together,” he announced. “They’re only starting 12 seconds apart. Those two gotta hook up.”

As it turned out, Spillane and Demong took his advice.

Two-time Nordic combined Olympian and coach Gary Crawford slipped into the announcer role that he plays at many competitive skiing events.

“It looks like we have fast skis today,” Crawford said. “I like this. It’s a good sign. Johnny is able to do V-2, and Gruber (of Austria) is using V-1. They’ve got some distance!”

For many in a crowd that was still whooping and hollering minutes after the race had ended, it was a nostalgic moment.

Former Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executive Rod Han­­na, who put together the TV deals that helped Steamboat host a string of Nordic combined World Cups in the 1990s, recalled the first of them, when Spillane was a youthful forerunner, testing the ski jump for the big boys.

It was an equally emotional occasion for Ed and Jayne Hill, who provided a home for former World Cup team members Tim Tetreault and Ryan Heckman for more than eight years.

“Their own parents called us the Steamboat parents,” Jayne Hill said.

Tom Baer, who served on the organizing committees for Steamboat World Cups, took a moment to remember a special friend of Nordic skiing, the late U.S. Ski Team press officer, Paul Robbins.

“Paul Robbins would be so proud today,” Baer said. “It’s making me a little teary-eyed.”

And then he just let the tears of joy roll down his cheeks.

Now, all Spillane has to do is find a way to get all that silver through the metal detector at airport security in Vancouver.

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