AFTER THE WHISTLE

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, the world's attention was focused on Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

A lot has changed in the past year. Many of the athletes have moved onto other things, and the media frenzy that surrounded the games has fizzled like a three-day-old can of soda pop.

This year, it's as if the stars of 2002 have vanished from the face of the earth. But people in Steamboat Springs know that isn't true.

Those stars -- at least the freestyle, and many of the Nordic combined and special-jumping stars -- are alive and well in Steamboat.

Many of them could be seen on the slopes of Mount Werner this week during the Sprint Freestyle Grand National. Even more will arrive next week when Howelsen Hill hosts the National Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships.

The good news for locals is that they can see all those Olympic stars and not have to fight the crowds, hassle with the security lines or pay high prices that accompanied the Salt Lake City games last year.

On Friday, several hundred people came to the base of the Voo Doo ski run to watch and cheer the aerialists competing in the first event of the Sprint Freestyle Grand National. Those who witnessed the finals were treated to a great show.

Sure, some spectators came out for the free food in the VIP tent, but an even larger portion just came for the thrill of watching talented athletes and amazing tricks. I mean, I'm not sure what a "lay, full, full, full" is, but I have a pretty good idea of how hard it is to accomplish on skis.

Somehow I doubt the Olympic fever stirred by the Utah games will ever be recreated. Not unless the games come back to Salt Lake.

But that shouldn't bother those of us who live in Ski Town, USA. This is where the stars of the games come when the spotlight is turned off. The athletes still compete and perform at an Olympic level -- but much of our nation turns away in favor of more traditional sports like professional basketball, football and hockey.

What a difference a year can make. Things will always change, but Steamboat's support of the games that create Olympic stars never seems to waver.

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