Sunday, February 26, 2006
I still remember the first thing I said to my wife when I got back from Salt Lake City in 2002 after covering the Winter Olympics for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
The words "There is no way I'm going to Italy" still ring inside the walls of the Russell household in Steamboat Springs, and I will be eating those words until the day I die.
The truth is that you don't cover the Winter Olympics. You live them. For the past 17 days, I've awoken before dawn and haven't left the media centers set up at each sporting venue until the workers turn off the lights late at night.
I've covered so many freestyle, Nordic combined and ski jumping competitions that when I go to sleep at night, the day's events are replayed in my head more often than "Roseanne" is replayed on Nick at Nite.
I've eaten so much pizza -- one of the few things I can pick off of an Italian menu -- that the locals have started calling me "formaggio pizza ragazzo" -- the cheese pizza boy. I've spent hours standing in the cold in special media areas in hopes of catching a glimpse of an American's performance, and I've learned how to operate Italian vending machines. I know it sounds easy, but it's not.
So why in the world am I here?
I'm here because of the smile that spread across Tyler Jewell's face every time he completed a run in the men's parallel giant slalom last week, and I'm here because of the tears in Todd Lodwick's eyes when he realized that an Olympic medal had slipped through his hands a final time.
I have to be here because in Pragelato, Sauze d'Oulx and Bardonecchia, our town's skiing legacy is being written by the athletes who grew up on our streets and attended our schools. These are the kids that live in our neighborhoods or moved to Steamboat to pursue a dream that few Americans fully grasp.
Their stories are important to all of us because the Olympic spirit has been planted in the fiber of our mountain community, and it continues to thrive in the dreams of the children who wander the halls of Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools.
There are hundreds of skiers who call Steamboat home who will never experience what it is like to be at the Olympic Games. But that statistic will not stop them from trying, and it will not keep others from sharing the experience with them.
When I talk with people at the Olympics, they always are amazed by the number of athletes that call Steamboat home. Reporters from big-city papers who typically cover spring training this time of year look at me and wonder why Steamboat has been so successful at building an Olympic tradition.
"Is it something in the water?" they ask. I simply tell them that there's just something about our community.
So when I arrive home this week, I will tell my wife there is no way I'm going to Vancouver in four years.
But I plan on taking a fork out of the kitchen drawer so I can start eating my words as soon as possible.
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org