Steamboat cheers ‘Hometown Heroes’ |

Steamboat cheers ‘Hometown Heroes’

Parade, evening celebration honor Olympians with ties to city

Olympic Nordic combined skier Johnny Spillane, who won three silver medals at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, visits with Joey Rezzonico at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Friday as part of the Hometown Heroes Parade and Celebration. Spillane and other members of the U.S. Nordic combined team visited local schools, took part in a parade and were the guests of honor at a ceremony in downtown Steamboat Springs on Friday night.
John F. Russell

— When gold medalist Billy Demong took the podium Friday at the Hometown Heroes Parade and Celebration in downtown Steamboat Springs, he joked that events like this seem to happen once a week in Steamboat.

Although there is a little hyperbole there, Demong’s notion of the event captures just what a special place, winter wonderland and breeding ground for Olympians — and Olympic champions — Steamboat has become.

Friday certainly served as another reminder of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s bustling success at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games — and rightfully so, with seven Olympic medals clanging together on the stage — but the overriding tone Friday was that it really does take a community to raise an Olympian.

“I consider this,” silver medalist Todd Lodwick told a crowd of more than 1,000, “a little bit of Steamboat’s medal, too.”

Lodwick and three-time silver medalist Johnny Spillane, silver medalist Brett Camerota, Demong and Taylor Fletcher were recognized for their work at the 2010 Olympics in February in Vancouver, British Columbia.

And what work they did.

Spillane started it by winning silver in the normal hill Gundersen event. The team followed with silver in the four-person team event before Demong and Spillane capped it off by going 1-2 in the large hill Gundersen event.

Friday’s event featured the Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band, longtime ranching families leading the Olympians in, and a resurrected Carl Howelsen telling the story of how he brought ski jumping to Steamboat.

There were also political figures on hand: State Sen. Al White, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, U.S. Rep. John Salazar and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall congratulated the Olympians.

The city of Steamboat Springs also declared Friday Hometown Heroes Day.

But with Howelsen Hill as a backdrop, the influence of Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club was at the forefront.

“I dreamed of coming out to Colorado when I was a kid,” said Demong, who is from New York and moved to Steamboat full time in 1996 to train. “I love it out west. This town has been so good to me.”

At the conclusion of Friday’s event, Lodwick, Demong, Spillane, Camerota and coach Dave Jarrett were fitted with military fatigues.

The four skiers leave at 12:35 p.m. today from Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden to take part in the Armed Forces Entertainment “Olympic Heavy Medal Tour.”

They will tour combat bases around the world. Per military rules, exact locations couldn’t be revealed.

“There is a ton of energy,” Spillane said about Friday’s celebration. “It’s so awesome to come out and thank people for supporting us the whole time. They support us whether we won or not. We wanted to share it with everyone. This is awesome.”

And with cowbells clanging, video montages of Olympic glory and recognition to Steamboat’s sons, each one kept bringing it back to what a special place this is.

At some point, all trained here, at some point, all lived here, and at some point, Steamboat engraved an indelible mark on them.

“In other places, kids grow up dreaming of hitting balls and home runs,” said Spillane, now the face of the city. “Growing up here, they dream of getting Olympic medals.”

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