by Ralph Routon
Nobody inside the U.S. Olympic movement wants to take credit for the American athletes' unprecedented successes here at the 2010 Winter Games over the past two weeks, but some athletes and officials offered some reasons Saturday morning at the U.S. Olympic Committee's wrapup news conference.
New CEO Scott Blackmun looked back to "programs that we put into place after Nagano," reacting to the 1998 Winter Games in Japan when the U.S. came away with only 13 medals. Blackmun said the USOC began developing "customized partnerships" with each of the different sports, because all had different circumstances and needs.
Vail skier Lindsey Vonn talked about the momentum that built through the Olympics as Americans kept piling up medals, more than a few unexpected.
"Seeing all the success we were having, it was really inspirational," Vonn said. "It's just been so cool to watch the other events and see the U.S. flag go up (during medal ceremonies) so many times. And the fans here have been out in full force, cheering the whole world and not just their country. It didn't feel the same (four years ago) in Torino as it has here in Whistler."
Bill Demong of Steamboat Springs, the gold-medal winner in the Nordic combined final individual event, emphasized that the torrent of medals hasn't been just good luck.
"I know that, in my sport, we've put years of work into developing every step of the way," Demong said. "But I think that part of the windfall here has been that you have NGBs (national governing bodies) of all the sports taking advantage of the sports science and funding, and they've been making inroads. And seeing the level of professionalism among the athletes here has been a change from other Olympis in the past.
"In Nagano (Demong's first of four Olympics), it felt like we were a small country. It felt like we were outsiders. Now we're here as a large team with big expectations, and that should stay the same now regardless of where the Games are."
USA team leader Mike Plant, a former Colorado Springs resident who worked with several NGBs and now a vice president for baseball's Atlanta Braves, praised the USOC for "not just having four-year programs but a long-term strategy of funding, research and science."
Plant also said he was sorry to hear that Canada now plans to slash its "Own the Podium" program giving extra support for its athletes, saying the USOC invested $55 million in its winter-sports athletes for the Vancouver Games and would continue to provide support leading toward 2014 in Sochi, Russia.