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Spillane behind the mic for World Championships

Johnny Spillane spent more than a decade competing in Nordic combined. Now he's commenting on others, severing as a color commentator for NBC Sports during the broadcast of the Nordic World Ski Championships. Those are taking place in Lahti, Finland, but Spillane's calling the action from Denver.
John F. Russell

— Lunch approached for most of Colorado late Friday morning, but in a Denver hotel room, Johnny Spillane was drawing the shades and yawning widely.

It’s been four years since Spillane needed to live the European life — adjusted time zones included — while competing on the Nordic combined World Cup circuit, but he’s spent much of the past two weeks back on that schedule, if not on that continent.

He’s been serving as a color commentator for NBC Sports as the network has broadcast the Nordic World Ski Championships from Lahti, Finland.

“I’m the color guy, so I talk a lot about recent results — how those relate into the championships — and I talk about the actual tactics during the races,” Spillane said. “I talk about the strategy, the waxing, all the stuff you would only know if you’d done it.”

Spillane has certainly done it. He won a World Championship in 2003, then won three silver medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He retired from the sport after the 2013 World Championships and has often said he hasn’t questioned that decision. He also hasn’t minded dipping his toe back into the sport, even if it’s from 5,000 miles away.

“No one’s complaining,” he said, evaluating his commentating. “I stayed really in touch with a lot of the results, and I’m still really familiar with a lot of the names. Most of the skiers, I still know personally.”

There have been plenty of highlights for him to call.

The United States has won three medals at the event, all from the women’s Nordic skiing team. Jessie Diggins won silver, and Kikkan Randall took bronze in the championship’s first competition — freestyle sprint.

Diggins then came back with Sadie Bjornsen to win bronze in the women’s Classic team sprint race.

Nordic combined hasn’t offered quite as many highlights, at least not from the U.S. Team. Bryan Fletcher was challenging for a medal in the first of four events until a late-race crash set him back to 14th. Taylor Fletcher picked up a 21st-place finish the same day, while Ben Berend, especially, has had strong jumps, but lackluster cross-country ski races. Berend has jumped to 21st and 22nd in his two individual events, but finished 41st and 40th, respectively.

The team also included Eau Claire, Wisconsin, brothers Adam Loomis, 33rd and 44th in individual events, and Ben Loomis, who took on a leg in the four-man relay team’s eighth-place finish.

“It’s a young team, for sure,” Spillane said. “Ben showed he’s capable of having some really good jumps at premier events, but they have a lot of work to do on the cross-country side for those young guys. Bryan was close in that first event, but it just didn’t work out. That’s racing.”

The German team, which won all four Nordic combined golds, has impressed him plenty.

“It’s ridiculous,” Spillane said. “It’s a testament to their coaching and their training programming. Jumping is really the hard part to get right, and they have it right. It takes coaching and hard work.”

Spillane is done with the Nordic combined events, but three big events remain. A 30-kilometer mass start women’s skiing race and the large hill team special jumping competition take place Saturday. The 50K men’s mass start ski race then will be Sunday.

More commentating could be in his future, particularly next winter for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Spillane wasn’t sure about that Friday, but he was sure he was excited to call the last three events of this event — just as soon as he got some sleep.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9


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