John F. Russell: Sometimes success is measured outside the Olympics, even in Ski Town USA
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs is the place where dreams are born, nurtured and, in many cases, come true, thanks to a community that inspires and supports Olympic athletes like no other community in the world.
The list is long and includes not only Olympians, but Olympic medal winners like Nelson Carmichael, Shannon Dunn, Travis Mayer, Billy Demong (who lived and trained in our town), Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane. It’s impressive that a town this size has produced more than 80 Olympians and that every child growing up here believes the dream of becoming an Olympic athlete is not only attainable, but realistic.
In 2014, Steamboat Springs was represented by 17 Olympic athletes ranging from Nordic combines skiers to halfpipe snowboarders.
Sending athletes to the Olympic games is a great tradition in which our community takes pride. When we watch the games, we are not just watching one of the greatest spectacles on Earth unfold, but we are watching our friends, neighbors, students, classmates, teammates and fellow Steamboat Springs residents become a part of the Olympic fiber. The first step on the road to the Olympics is normally making the U.S. Ski Team. This is where most skiers decide if they will continue to chase their dreams or begin their lives after skiing.
Still, the children of Steamboat Springs realize that becoming an Olympian is never guaranteed, and not every kid will grow up to compete for the bronze, silver and gold. It’s a small group of elite athletes who are asked to join the U.S. Ski Team, and an even smaller number who will get to the games someday.
It’s a long process that starts at the junior level, then proceeds to the doors of the U.S. Ski Team. But even after an athlete steps through those doors, nothing is guaranteed. They need some luck to stay injury free, they need good timing, all hoping their best results come when the teams are preparing of the games, and they they need to have their best day ever with the eyes of the world upon them — that is, if they are lucky enough to get to the game.
There are times I wonder if our town puts too much pressure on young athletes and too much focus on the Olympic Games. I have no doubt that, once every four years, athletes from Steamboat Springs will head to the games promoting the reputation of our town. But I would argue there are lots of other ways to measure the success of our athletes outside of the games.
For years, I’ve watched a parade of Alpine ski racers find success in the sport outside the realm of the national team or the Olympics. For these athletes, ski racing is a way to earn a top-level college education, have it paid for and extend their career at college races across the country.
Many of Steamboat’s former athletes have gone on to be national collegiate champions or parts of national championship teams. When they are not on the slopes, they earn their degrees from places like The University of Boulder, Denver University and Middlebury, to name a few.
No, it’s not the World Cup or the Olympics. But it’s ski racing at a high level and a chance for many of Steamboat’s top athletes to shine in the national spotlight.
This year, Hig Roberts, one of those local ski racers who turned to college ski racing, was named to the U.S. Alpine Ski Team as a member of the “B” team. It seems weird — and I have to admit, it’s kind of rare — for a top-level ski racer to go to college, then earn a shot at the U.S. Ski Team after graduation.
Roberts is the perfect example of a racer who not only excelled at college, but was able to hold on to his U.S. Ski Team ambitions. I’m not sure if Roberts will ever make that next step and move from his spot on the ‘B” team to a shot at the Olympics. But when it comes to measuring his success, nobody can deny he made the most of the opportunities that were given to him.
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