John F. Russell: Party a celebration of Johnny Spillane’s legacy |

John F. Russell: Party a celebration of Johnny Spillane’s legacy

World champion and three-time Olympic silver medalist Johnny Spillane
John F. Russell

— There was food, there were cocktails and there were some of Steamboat Springs’ most celebrated Olympic athletes on hand Wednesday evening at Olympian Hall.

On one side of the room, you could find Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong and the Fletcher brothers. In another part of the room stood Tom Steitz, Gary Crawford and Todd Wilson looking more like proud parents than former coaches.

In between, there were special jumpers such as Tommy Schwall visiting with longtime Nordic supporters like Rod Hanna, Kathy Crawford and Jim Petersen.

Somewhere in the mix, the guest of honor, Johnny Spillane, did his best to greet all the folks who came out to celebrate his career and meet them with the same warm smile he wore all throughout his career.

He was warm and polite and, yes, maybe a bit out of his comfort zone. My guess is that Spillane isn’t the type of guy who would throw a retirement party to highlight his own accomplishments. My guess is he would have rather slipped into the sunset without this fanfare, but he also is the type of guy who knows that this is an important part of his legacy. For him, this wasn’t about celebrating his wonderful career, but it was his chance to thank all the people who made his career possible.

Just like the Olympians who set the standard before him — great athletes who carried on the tradition started by the likes of John Steele — Spillane represents the good parts of what our town has stood for throughout generations. Just like Nelson Carmichael, Shannon Dunn and Travis Mayer, Spillane leaves the game with Olympic hardware and is woven into our town’s Olympic heritage forever.

But his connection to our town seems to have been about much more than just the medals. It is about the hurdles he cleared en route to that success, his humble demeanor when he won and that warm smile that made friends and earned respect in almost every corner of the world.

During Wednesday night’s retirement celebration, his slideshow looked more like a family photo album than a record of his historic journey to become a world champion and an Olympic medalist.

Sure, there were photos of his success at the World Cup, World Championships and Olympics. But most of the images, the ones that got the biggest cheers from the crowd, where the kinds of memories you would find tucked away in any family scrapbook in any home in Steamboat Springs.

There were images of newspaper clippings of Spillane launching off one of the smaller jumps at Howelsen Hill as it had appeared in the pages of the Steamboat Pilot long before Johnny was identified as national team material. And there were images of Spillane hanging out with his former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club teammates and on the podium of a Wednesday Night Jump Series event.

Of course, the slideshow would not have been complete without a shot of his family cheering him on from the stands in Whistler; a shot of Spillane and his wife, Hilary, posing with the children and dogs; or images of Johnny enjoying some time on the river with a fishing pole in hand.

This was a celebration of who Johnny Spillane is and the road he traveled. He is a great representative of our town, and his success is celebrated every winter when young jumpers take the hill at Howelsen.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email

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