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30 years after Olympic letdown, teammates bike Ride 4 Yellow

1980 U.S. Olympic eight-man rowing team in town for race

The members of what would have been the 1980 U.S. Olympic eight-man rowing team gathered Saturday for a barbecue in Steamboat Springs. Most of the group, which has two reunions every year, will ride in today’s 26-mile Ride 4 Yellow event from Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs. The group is, from left, John Everett, Kurt Somerville, Bob Jaugstetter, Sean Colgan, Bruce Ibbetson, John Chatzsky, Steve Christensen and Tom Woodman. The group never got the chance to row in 1980 because the United States boycotted the Olympics that summer. That letdown helped fuel a friendship that still is running strong.
Joel Reichenberger

Today’s Ride 4 Yellow schedule

6 a.m. Shuttle service for riders begins from Meadows Parking Lot

6:30 a.m. Buses depart for Ride the Divide start

7:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies at Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass

8:15 a.m. First riders start down Continental Divide trail

9:30 a.m. Ski area gondola opens

10:30 a.m. Mount Werner Challenge ride kicks off from the top of the gondola

11 a.m. Expo on Thunderhead lawn starts at the top of the gondola

11:30 a.m. Celebration lunch starts

1 p.m. Mount Werner Challenge ride cut-off time

1:30 p.m. Thunderhead celebration featuring Linda Armstrong Kelly, Lance Armstrong’s mother

2:30 p.m. Fundraising awards announced

3:30 p.m. Auction ends





The members of what would have been the 1980 U.S. Olympic eight-man rowing team gathered Saturday for a barbecue in Steamboat Springs. Most of the group, which has two reunions every year, will ride in today’s 26-mile Ride 4 Yellow event from Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs. The group is, from left, John Everett, Kurt Somerville, Bob Jaugstetter, Sean Colgan, Bruce Ibbetson, John Chatzsky, Steve Christensen and Tom Woodman. The group never got the chance to row in 1980 because the United States boycotted the Olympics that summer. That letdown helped fuel a friendship that still is running strong.
Joel Reichenberger

Today’s Ride 4 Yellow schedule

6 a.m. Shuttle service for riders begins from Meadows Parking Lot

6:30 a.m. Buses depart for Ride the Divide start

7:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies at Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass



8:15 a.m. First riders start down Continental Divide trail

9:30 a.m. Ski area gondola opens



10:30 a.m. Mount Werner Challenge ride kicks off from the top of the gondola

11 a.m. Expo on Thunderhead lawn starts at the top of the gondola

11:30 a.m. Celebration lunch starts

1 p.m. Mount Werner Challenge ride cut-off time

1:30 p.m. Thunderhead celebration featuring Linda Armstrong Kelly, Lance Armstrong’s mother

2:30 p.m. Fundraising awards announced

3:30 p.m. Auction ends

— The men of the 1980 U.S. Olympic eight-man rowing team make no effort to deny it.

They are friends today, 30 years after they came together, because they are uniquely suited to one another. They all enjoy getting outside and teeing up a round of golf or heading out on a bike ride.

They are friends because their personalities fit seamlessly together — “Not a single jerk,” as Sean Colgan explained it.

They still meet twice a year, every year, because their friendship was forged in iron in the terrible summer of 1980.

That relationship, which has carried the men of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Eight through 30 years of ups and downs, has been on display around the globe in their twice-yearly reunions.

It will be on display again today on the Continental Divide Trail between Rabbit Ears Pass and Steamboat Springs as they fight their way through the inaugural Ride 4 Yellow bike ride.

Sickening summer

The atmosphere was light Saturday evening as Colgan entertained his best friends at his ranch, overlooking the valley in Strawberry Park outside Steamboat Springs.

The rowers, most now gray in the hair and fighting off wrinkles around the eyes,

nursed cold beers from a newly tapped keg and traded jokes, surely many of the same they’d been passing back and forth since they met.

They became inseparable in spring and summer 1980. That’s when they first thought much of their life’s work to that point had been for naught.

They had survived rigorous trials and had been selected to man the premier rowing boat in the U.S. Olympic fleet, the eight-man. And they were to enter that summer’s games in Moscow among the gold-medal favorites.

“We were seeded second behind the East Germans,” Steve Christensen said. “We had a very good opportunity to win a medal.”

They never got the chance to find out if they were gold-medal-worthy. President Jimmy Carter announced March 21, 1980, that the United States would boycott the Moscow games in light of the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan.

Like that, years of work were rendered meaningless for a generation of American athletes.

Many still haven’t forgotten, even on a cool Steamboat Springs summer evening, 30 years later.

“Yeah, it lingers with me,” Tom Woodman said about his only shot at competing in the Olympics. “I think it will be with me for life.”

“It’s like something was taken away from us,” Christ­ensen added.

Some of the team from 1980 got other chances. Several had rowed in the 1976 games in Montreal, but that boat didn’t make the medal round. A few others still were on the team in 1984 and earned silver medals at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“It was special in its own sense,” said Bruce Ibbetson, who rowed on that team, as well, “but the disappointment about 1980 will always be there.”

No medals came from what the Americans considered a great team, but something else did, and it didn’t take long for that to become obvious to those who had lived through the most disappointing of summers together.

Coming together

The men of 1980 quickly realized they had a unique bond. They began to travel together even before the ’84 Olympics came around, competing in a race in Egypt in 1980 not for their country, but for the fun of it.

“Pretty soon we realized, ‘Wait, this is the seventh 1980 reunion we’ve had already. We haven’t had any for any other teams,’” Bob Jaugstetter said.

In the years since, they’ve become the best of friends. They met one summer to mountain bike across Costa Rica and did other tours on the Pacific coast.

They met and rode in the Tour de Steamboat in 2007, and spent another summer riding between the 10th Mountain Division huts.

They tried to make amends for the disappointment that brought them together, marking their 10-year reunion with a trip to Moscow to race the Soviets’ 1980 team.

“Those guys were way out of shape. They’d obviously spent the 10 years smoking and eating,” John Everett said. “It wasn’t much of a race, but it was a great trip.”

Colgan said the Soviets claimed they’d lacked the means to stay in shape, having been barred from the national team facilities after their careers. So he shipped them a pair of rowing machines and flew the team to Miami in 1993 for another race.

“They were a little better,” Colgan said. “Just a little.”

In addition to one non-rowing athletic reunion every summer, the team still gathers annually for the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.

“We made a vow way back then that we’d go every year until we got last,” Everett said. “We’ve come close, but luckily for us they keep adding new age divisions just in time for us.”

A challenge, a cause

The leader of the group is Colgan, who moved to Steam­boat with his family five years ago.

He was looking for 2010’s summer activity when he came across the Ride 4 Yellow’s Divide Ride, a 26-mile trek through the mountains near his home that will start from Dumont Lake at about 8 a.m. today.

Each rider in the 200-participant Divide Ride was required to raise $500 for cancer research.

More than $200,000 was raised in all, half of which will support the Lance Armstrong Foundation and half of which will be donated to local cancer-fighting charities.

That was something Colgan and his crew had no trouble getting behind.

Woodman suffered from skin cancer. Ibbetson learned a month ago that his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kurt Somerville, of Boston, lost his wife, the mother to three of his children, to melanoma in 2006.

“She was my high school sweetheart,” Somerville said. “It means so much more when you’re riding with someone else right at the front of your mind. This isn’t just a bike ride.”

The ride is only part of a whirlwind Steamboat weekend. They went to the rodeo Friday night and went tubing Saturday afternoon. They’ve played golf and will ride road bikes Tuesday to Laramie, Wyo.

Five members of the group will take part in today’s ride, the rest gathering at the top of the gondola finish line at Steamboat Ski Area to cheer.

They don’t have outrageous expectations for their finish. They don’t plan to keep up with professional cyclist Lance Armstrong, who will participate in the ride.

They said they’d hang together for the duration, that they’d laugh and joke and yell and have fun.

Mostly, they said, they’ll enjoy another adventure together and continue to mine the rich friendship that was first tapped 30 years ago during, what at the time, seemed like the worst summer of their lives.

“The shared disappointment brought us closer together than any shared success could have,” Everett said. “If we had gone and won a medal, we probably wouldn’t be doing this today.”

Colgan bounced among friends Saturday evening, pouring the beer and calling out when the food was ready.

“We have all been to each other’s weddings and, unfortunately, funerals. We are all godfathers to each other’s children,” he said. “It’s just an incredibly intense friendship.”


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