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Athletes: Howelsen losing potential

— To sustain its Olympic heritage, Steamboat Springs must be able to retain its Olympic hopefuls, former Olympian Hank Kashiwa said Tuesday.

Kashiwa, along with several other members of the Olympian Project Task Force, which includes parents and residents, encouraged county commissioners to provide the necessary $50,000 to explore the cost of turning Howelsen Hill into a year-round training facility.

“Our athletes are really being asked to train in sub-par facilities,” Kashiwa said.



Many young athletes are leaving the area for the summer to train at a new ski-jumping facility in Park City, Utah, that allows them to practice their jumps without snow.

Park City will host the ski-jumping portion of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.



Todd Wilson, nordic program director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said its summer training program was almost in jeopardy because of the low number of participants this year.

Plastic must be installed on the jumps at Howelsen Hill before the club loses more of its ski jumpers to Park City during the summer, he added.

Despite Howelsen Hill’s limited training scope, it will continue to offer the unique ski-jumping tradition that so many former Olympic venues lack, Wilson said.

However, that legacy could be endangered if no athletes remain to carry on that tradition.

“Just having a facility does not guarantee a good program,” Wilson said. “But it’s a facility-driven sport. Without that facility, we risk losing athletes.”

Athletes and coaches fear Steamboat Springs may one day exist to provide Park City with athletes, just as Winter Park sends its ski jumpers to Howelsen Hill for more advanced training.

Park City’s program is about 15 years behind Steamboat Springs, Wilson added.

While County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak supports building a year-round facility, she said she is concerned about how to come up with the money to first determine the project’s feasibility.

“Every time someone needs money, the state’s energy and mineral fund is raided,” Stahoviak said. “Let’s look somewhere else for this.”

About $50,000 is needed in addition to $16,000 in matching funds taken from the World Cup budget to bring in the same construction engineer who designed the Olympic ski-jumping facility in Park City.

Stahoviak suggested that the state Legislature and the governor’s office be involved in the funding process.

“It’s a Colorado problem,” Stahoviak said. “It affects what we can offer the youth of this state.”

Kashiwa would only say that turning Howelsen Hill into a year-round facility would be a “multimillion-dollar project.”

Linda Kakela, whose child competed in the 1996 Olympics, said it is necessary to solve the issue of funding at a time when Colorado can find pride in seeing its own compete in Salt Lake City.

Jeopardizing Steamboat Springs’ ability to produce quality athletes could ultimately threaten the state’s skiing pre-eminence, she warned.

“Utah is making a very big push to steal the market,” Kakela said. “There’s a sense of urgency. This is seen as a window of opportunity to address this before the Olympics.”


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