Springs should make most of Olympic ties

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Four years ago, I spent nearly all of February in Vancouver, covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in that wonderfully vibrant city.

Fortunately, making arrangements late helped me snag a great deal on a downtown apartment (overpriced at first, then available at a much-lower rate) in a high-rise building less than a half-mile from the main press center.

That meant a nice walk through the heart of Vancouver at the start and finish of every day, which produced memories that I never could’ve experienced otherwise. It was so heartwarming to see the Canadian people’s spirit, from the anticipation before each event to the spontaneous euphoria that followed Canada’s many successes — especially gold medals but even the silver and bronze — topped by the absolute craziness after Canada’s overtime win over Team USA for the men’s hockey gold medal.

But something else happened repeatedly on those walks and at events. Time after time, day after day, I encountered people from Colorado Springs. Many were personal acquaintances, but just as many were Springs folks who recognized me and stopped to introduce themselves.

Some had gone to Vancouver to see the Olympics because they were so close. Others either had some tie to an athlete or team, or they were involved in some way with the U.S. Olympic Committee or one of the national governing bodies, providing support services for the American contingent.

Seeing and meeting so many folks from the Springs hammered home a point to me: As much as we might think the Olympic movement has become an integral part of the Pikes Peak region, we underestimate how far the Olympic tentacles have spread all around us.

And we haven’t always done the best job of realizing and appreciating that.

Another anecdote from the Vancouver Games drove that point home for me. While researching athletes’ backgrounds, I made a discovery.

The driver of the top U.S. bobsled team, Steven Holcomb, was listed as living in Park City, Utah. But he also had been a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, obviously to help him with living expenses and training facilities (aside from bobsled runs, of course) outside of his usual competition season. Also, I eventually learned, Holcomb had relatives here.

That made him one of our own, because media here traditionally have given similar treatment to athletes in other sports who might list other hometowns but spent much time training here. The most common examples have been figure skaters, but that group has included other famous U.S. Olympians who also were OTC residents, such as Apolo Anton Ohno in short-track speedskating.

But as visible as the skaters have been through the years, the bobsledders weren’t. And at Vancouver, I soon discovered that Holcomb wasn’t alone.

One of his bobsled teammates, Curt Tomasevicz, also was an OTC resident athlete from Colorado Springs. Not only that, but Tomasevicz even was the owner of a home here on the city’s east side.

Yet, the outside world never saw that. As a proud native of Shelby, Neb., a town of about 700 residents northwest of Lincoln, Tomasevicz did and still does list that as his hometown. Given that it’s so rare to have a winter-sport athlete from Nebraska, and that Tomasevicz also played college football as a walk-on for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, NBC-TV and the other national media made the most of it.

That U.S. team, including Holcomb and Tomasevicz, won gold in Vancouver. But they enjoyed few accolades back here in Colorado Springs, though Holcomb still has family in the area (as mentioned in a profile of Schaefer Insurance Agency with Steven’s uncle, John Schaefer, in last week’s Business Journal).

They’re favored to win gold again in Sochi as the 2014 Olympics start next week. And they still spend time here, particularly Tomasevicz, who has written blogs about our fires in recent years and helped with the Warrior Games. The bobsledders obviously do their sled training in Utah, but they haven’t cut their ties here. Neither has U.S. figure skating men’s champion Jeremy Abbott, who trained for years at the World Arena (his mother, Allison Scott, works at The Broadmoor). We even have a new surprise with U.S. men’s skating runnerup Jason Brown, who trains at Monument.

Colorado Springs can’t forget athletes and stories such as those, and whether or not the City for Champions projects become reality, we have to make sure to include them on every list of this city’s Olympians. And whenever we have our special events, they should always be invited to enjoy the spotlight again.

This is how we someday can fully justify calling ourselves America’s Olympic City.

In fact, we’re already a lot closer than most people realize.