Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Bardonecchia, Italy Tyler Jewell knew long before he stepped into the starting gate that Wednesday would not be an ordinary day.
"It's been a very difficult road, and that's what makes it so special to be here now," Jewell said. "If everything had happened so easily, this would just be another day ... I followed my heart through thick and thin, and it all worked out."
Jewell's performance Wed--nesday helped him break out of the qualifying round and into the top 16 in the parallel giant slalom event at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Bardonecchia.
In the first elimination round, he went head-to-head with Slovenia's Dejan Kosir in his only Olympic duel. Jewell narrowly won the first heat, but the advantage disappeared in his second run.
"We were going back and forth, and I felt like I had him," Jewell said. "I took a little bit of a chance on a gate and hit the stubby and lost a little bit of speed. But I can look myself in the mirror -- I took a chance, and it was either going to pay off or not."
Jewell finished 11th, but for the Steamboat Springs rider who has done everything to pursue his dream, there was no reason to be disappointed.
"It's an honor just to be here," Jewell said. "The Olympics are something really special. It's a time when the countries are supposed to lay down arms. We are sportsmen, and we are fighting through our sport, not with weapons. It's a time of peace, and if I can do that for my country, then I am really proud."
Jewell, who considered joining the Army after his college roommate was killed while trying to rescue people in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, paid tribute by wearing a red handkerchief around his neck. He saw the event as the perfect place to honor his friend Welles Crowther.
Jewell's path to the Olym----pics has been challenging.
A former member of the Home Depot program, he lost his funding unexpectedly while driving from his home in Boston to Colorado. He ended up in Oregon with no coach, no money and little hope.
But instead of giving up, Jewell imp--rov------ised.
His adventures included living in his 1994 Toyota Landcruiser and surviving on a box of Powerbars his friend Lisa Kosglow gave him. But it wasn't until Justin Reiter persuaded him to come to Steamboat that Jewell's luck began to change.
He started training with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and dedicated himself to getting back on the team -- and to getting to the Olympics.
Jewell found it difficult to hold down a full-time job and meet the pressures of training for the Olympics -- so he improvised again, pitching a tent on Steamboat-area property owned by his coach, Thedo Remmelink. Jewell lived without electricity or running water.
Although technically homeless, Jewell found comfort in Steamboat and rediscovered the technique that had brought him to snowboarding. He opened this season with several top results and was the top American rider when the U.S. Olympic Team was named at the end of January. But the decision to send Jewell to the Olympics was challenged by 2002 Olympic bronze medalist Chris Klug, and Jewell had to appear in court to have the decision upheld.
"It was a really difficult year to make it (to the Olympics)," Jewell said. "I'm a guy following his destiny, who had to overcome some obstacles. I lived in a tent on my coach's land. It was great. I never watched television, I just watched the stars and sun set. I would wake up early to train, went to the public library to hang out, and I ate my meals at Yampa Valley Medical Center. It was like $2.50 a meal, and it was really good food. For me, it was cool just making it happen on not very much."
For many athletes at the Win--ter Olympics, the joy of sport is lost among the pressure to win medals. But Jewell, who smiled after each of his runs Wednesday, said the medals were not as important as just being there to compete -- and have fun.