AFTER THE WHISTLE

— All fired up

It's a journey that will take the Olympic Torch through 115 American cities, 46 states and cover more than 13,500 miles.

The entire journey will be completed in just 65 days by more than 11,000 torch bearers and should reflect the country's buildup to the Olympic Games.

Along the way it will pass through the streets of former Olympic hosts like Atlanta, St. Louis, Lake Placid, Squaw Valley and Los Angles. During the trip the torch will pass through nearly every state in the country, including, for the first time ever, Alaska.

But to tell you the truth up, until a little over a week ago, I couldn't care less about this pre-Olympic spectacle.

But then Aspen and Glenwood Springs started arguing about who would host a lunch and a single comment made my ears perk up.

Don't get me wrong. I still think the whole Olympic torch thing is on the same level as the hype that leads up to the Super Bowl yawn.

But this one particular statement really got me thinking.

It came from Mark Walker, a spokesman for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, who said that the group had been swayed to the Aspen luncheon because of the town's skiing heritage.

Well, I'm sure that Aspen has some very strong skiing roots, but how in the world could the Olympic torch pass through Colorado and not come to Steamboat Springs?

During the trip, the icicle-shaped torch will slip to the north of Steamboat as it cruises through Casper and Cheyenne in Wyoming. It will also creep to the east, south and west as it makes its way through Denver, Colorado Springs, Vail, Aspen, Glenwood and finally Grand Junction.

In fact, the torch will make a huge circle around Steamboat but never pass down Lincoln Avenue.

It's hard for me to imagine that there are any other towns in the country that have as deep an Olympic skiing tradition as Steamboat Springs.

The town claims 49 athletes who have competed in the Olympics and there is little doubt that the number will climb even higher when the Olympics reach Salt Lake City in 2002.

Steamboat's dedication to the Olympics and great Olympians is evident no matter where you go in this town. The state's oldest ski area, and birthplace of several great skiing stars, is located in downtown Steamboat. The skiing lodge has a room named Olympian Hall where banners with the athletes' names are hung proudly. The building also serves as a headquarters for one of the state's biggest winter sports clubs, which has produced more Olympians than any other.

Just down the road is another ski hill bearing the name of one of the country's best-known Alpine skiers, Buddy Werner. He was also Olympian. There is also the fact that Steamboat has two bronze medalist who still call the Yampa Valley their home. Walker, who is the media and communications manger for the SLOC, said the choice was made a long time ago and that a committee made the choices for which cities would be selected. He said the towns were selected carefully in an effort to reach as many people as possible. The organizers also wanted to pay attention to Olympic traditions and build energy for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Unfortunately, Steamboat just did not fit into the master plan. Maybe Steamboat was a little too far removed from the course or maybe the SLOC thought that a town with this many Olympians doesn't really have to get pumped up for next February.

Rick DeVos of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club took the news in stride, saying that he didn't feel overlooked just because Steamboat wasn't chosen.

"I think that both Aspen and Glenwood are very appropriate cities," DeVos said. "I'm sure there are a lot of politics that go into making a decision like that. I'm just glad the torch is coming through Colorado. I'm sure that the Salt Lake Olympics are going to be a great thing this may be the closest they come to us in our lifetime."

For those who may be upset that Steamboat wasn't considered as part of the final route, there is still hope. The torch relay is still seeking nominations for torch bearers and Walker said that all qualified candidates will be considered. To nominate someone to carry the torch (a distance near two-tenths of a mile) simply log onto www.saltlake2002.com. and click on the Olympic Torch icon. The nomination form is pretty easy to find.

The truth is, I'm not going to lose any sleep just because the torch will not be coming through Steamboat Springs. I would rather see the Olympics focus more on sports and a little less on celebration but I know that I'm in the minority.

The 2002 Winter Olympic Games are something that the country should celebrate and the torch relay will surely be a big part of the festivities.

I'm sure Steamboat's Olympic excitement will be strong and there is no doubt that this mountain town will be well represented in the Olympics by many, many local athletes.

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