World Champion Johnny Spillane retires
World Champion Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO), who set the pace for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team over more than a decade, is closing the chapter on an historic career that saw him win a World Championship and three Olympic silver medals.
After 13 seasons, Spillane made the retirement decision this spring to spend more time with his family in his native Steamboat Springs home.
“What I’ll take away from this career is that I was a part of something special,” said Spillane. “We committed as a group to becoming the best and doing everything we could to achieve that. I’m really proud of what our team has accomplished while I’ve been a part of it – whether it was a teammate or myself.”
Spillane was part of a nordic combined incubator in Steamboat Springs in the 1990s under the leadership of coach Tom Steitz. He made his World Cup debut in the 2001 season. Two years later he opened the 2003 campaign with three straight podiums in Trondheim, Norway. That February he became the first American to win a World Championship in nordic combined, taking gold in the sprint event at Val di Fiemme.
In Vancouver, he worked with teammates strategically and took America’s first nordic combined Olympic medal with silver, going on to lead the team to silver in the relay and backing up Billy Demong’s gold with silver to give the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team an unprecedented four medals in 2010.
But as Spillane reflected on his career, one of his most notable memories was when he paired with teammates to win the team event at the 1999 FIS Junior Nordic World Championships in Austria (silver a year later). “That started us off and put us on the map as a team,” he reflected.
Just nine months before Sochi, Spillane is putting his family on top and looking forward to spending time at home around the Colorado cowboy town.
“Basically every spring I reevaluate where I’m at,” he said. “I just got to the point where I didn’t want to be away from home anymore. There’s so much travel involved in what we do and I just didn’t like being away from my girls and watching them grow up on a computer. I’m really happy to be home now. I’m very satisfied with my career and now it’s time to do something else.”
“Johnny believed in himself and believed in our ability and his ability to the point where he was able to break through barriers that Americans had never broken before,” said Olympic champion and teammate Billy Demong. “He paved the path for the rest of us to have the same success. His retirement is bittersweet. For sure I’m bummed that we’re not going to be together at the Olympics next winter. But, at the same time, I’m excited for him and I know that he’s moving forward in his life plan and taking a chance, taking a step forward in following another dream.”
“Johnny’s been a great teammate,” added Demong. “Not only did he lead the way for a lot of our success, but he’s always been one to do whatever he can for his fellow teammates, even when he’s hurt or struggling skiing to be able to lead and help out.”
Spillane’s leadership was echoed by his former teammate and now nordic combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett. “For me, the biggest thing with Johnny has been his leadership by example. He’s always the first guy in training and last guy to leave. He was always prepared. He was ready to go to work every day, every competition, every training session. He was willing to do everything and do all the work, to suffer, to go out in the rain, to go out in the cold, to go out in the snow – whatever it took.”
One of the hallmarks of Spillane and his teammates is their motivation to keep the spirit alive. “To younger athletes, I want to say anything is possible as long as you’re willing to do the work and give yourself every opportunity to succeed by training hard and solely committing to what you’re doing,” said Spillane.
“I’ll always be involved in nordic combined in some shape or form. It’s a big passion in my life. I want to thank the U.S. Ski Team and all of my teammates, coaches and technicians for doing such a great job over the years and really being behind allowing us to compete. Also, I want to recognize the support that people around the world gave me.
Johnny Spillane Timeline
1999 – Junior Worlds Gold, team event, Saalfelden, Austria
1999 – First World Cup B win, Klingenthal, Germany
2000 – Junior Worlds Silver, team event, Strbske Pleso, Slovakia
2000 – Debut World Cup, Kuopio, Finland (Dec. 2, 2000)
2002 – First World Cup podium, Trondheim, Norway (three straight podiums)
2003 – World Championship Gold, Val di Fiemme
2010 – World Cup win, Oberhof, Germany 2010 – 3 Olympic Silver, Vancouver
2013 – Retires as one of U.S. Ski Team’s most decorated athletes
Johnny Spillane By the Numbers
• 158 World Cup starts (individual events)
• 9 Olympic starts (3 medals) 8 World Championship teams
• 6 World Cup podiums (including one win)
• 4 Olympic Winter Games teams
• 3 Olympic medals
Photos: Sarah Brunson/USSA