In any given year, the summer months bring out the best in Colorado Springs. It's hard to think of any other city our size with a comparable array of annual sports events.
We see cars, runners and cyclists — separately, of course — climbing our 14,110-foot Pikes Peak. We host rodeos, other running events, golf tournaments and more.
Sometimes, on top of all that, we enjoy special events with national or even global significance, such as the U.S. Women's Open golf championship last year at The Broadmoor, and the U.S. Senior Open a few years earlier.
This year, a new theme applies. Three of the Springs' highest-visibility sports events are taking it to another level, making them worthy of headliner status for the summer of 2012.
Let's tackle them chronologically ...
• Pikes Peak International Hill Climb: For the 90th running of the oldest motorsports race west of the Mississippi River, a new wrinkle has changed everything. This year, for the first time, the entire 12.42-mile course to the Pikes Peak summit will be paved.
That obviously means faster sustained speeds and a new set of records, but it also means fast-rising interest from car manufacturers and racing entities who see the Race to the Clouds now as providing huge research and marketing opportunities, even for electric-powered vehicles. We'll see much more participation by those factory-backed operations in years to come, but already this year the Hill Climb has attracted more than 200 entrants.
They'll go through inspections July 3, and hit the mountain for practice and qualifying runs between July 4 and 6. Then at least 180 will run to the top on Sunday, July 8. And the wider variety of cars will add to the appeal of the hugely popular Hill Climb Fan Fest, set for 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday, July 6, in downtown Colorado Springs, with Tejon Street blocked off from Bijou Street south to Colorado Avenue. Crowds have reached 25,000 for previous Fan Fests.
• Rocky Mountain State Games: Once again, athletes from Colorado and surrounding states will converge on the Springs for the 34-sport extravaganza that fills the last two weekends of July. But the traditional opening ceremony, scheduled for Friday, July 27, will take full advantage of a bigger event that same evening — the start of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
So the State Games festivities will unfold at America the Beautiful Park, complete with our own torch-lighting, and then the athletes will march downtown to join thousands of area residents for an Olympic Celebration that includes watching a live feed from NBC of the Olympic Games opening ceremony in London. If the weather cooperates, that gathering could turn into a gargantuan festival.
• USA Pro Cycling Challenge: Last summer, local enthusiasts enjoyed watching the prologue of the inaugural Pro Cycling Challenge. But the downside of that stage was seeing just one cyclist every minute or so along the course to the finish of the time trial, with the only suspense in watching the times.
This second version will be completely different. On Friday, Aug. 24, the Challenge's grueling fifth stage will run from Breckenridge over Hoosier Pass, across South Park, over Wilkerson Pass, onward through Florissant, up to Divide, then down Ute Pass into Colorado Springs — 117 miles in all. At the end comes a dramatic twist as the field will make three laps around the city's downtown core, leading to the actual finish.
That means all kinds of excellent viewing possibilities in the downtown setting, and the chance for perhaps the largest crowd ever to witness a single sporting event in Colorado Springs.
Lots of cities would kill for the chance to have just one of those three spectaculars.
We get them all ... in the same summer.