John F. Russell: Goodbye to a friend of skiing |

John F. Russell: Goodbye to a friend of skiing

— He was an unseen force in skiing, a good friend of the Nordic combined community and one of those guys who actually returned a phone call when you needed to talk with him.

I was shocked and then saddened by the news when Paul Robbins died suddenly in February of a heart attack.

The 68-year-old Robbins spent more than 30 years traveling around the world covering skiing as a correspondent for the U.S. Ski Team. His understanding of Alpine, freestyle and Nordic skiing made him one of the most important contacts any reporter could have on a source list.

He passed along Ski Team news faster than a California wildfire, knew more about skiing than Robert Downey Jr. knows about drug rehab and was more interesting than the latest Michael Crichton novel.

The cool thing about Robbins was the way he could bring athletes out of their shells and get them to talk, and I mean really talk, about their feelings, their sport and their accomplishments. His distinctive voice and ability to break into European languages on the spot made him the go-to guy to lead just about any news conference. He could spout off questions faster than gas prices are rising in America, and he always knew how to make athletes feel at ease in front of a room full of reporters – who often knew little or nothing about skiing.

It seemed as if the athletes he interviewed appreciated his thoughtful questions, and he always found an angle that was interesting and went beyond the latest result to the character of the people he was interviewing.

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For years, his words graced U.S. Ski Team news releases and gave reporters thousands of miles away an accurate account of what happened.

Most Americans think sports such as ski racing, freestyle, Nordic combined and ski jumping happen once every four years. Paul understood that, but he also worked to make sure America didn’t forget about these athletes between Olympic Games. Those of us who follow winter sports owe him a beer.

This weekend, there was a celebration of Robbins’ life in the McLane Family Building in Lyme, N.H.

I’m sad I missed it. I always looked up to Robbins and considered him a good friend.

I only got to see him once – twice if I was lucky – each year. But whenever I needed a name, number or some rare U.S. Ski Team factoid, I knew I could pick up my phone, and he would have it.

So this weekend, my thoughts are with Robbins’ family and friends who are bidding him one final farewell.

Somewhere, I know Robbins is sitting at his computer sending jokes, strange videos and other heavenly e-mails to the likes of Carl Howelsen, Gordon Wren, Buddy Werner, Skeeter Werner and all the other legendary skiers who are connected on the other side.

I also know that if I had a high-speed Internet connection to heaven, Paul would be sharing those stories with the rest of us.