Johnny Spillane: Olympic Hero… Fly Fishing Guide

What I love most about the Olympic Games are the feel-good human interest stories. Here’s one that should make any Stars-n-Stripes-waving fly fisher feel really, really good.

Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, took home the silver medal yesterday in the Nordic combined 10K normal hill competition in Vancouver, and in doing so earned the first ever American podium finish in the history of this demanding competition. Spillane finished less than half a second behind gold medalist Jason Lamy Chappuis of France with a tremendously inspiring performance that’s sure to be remembered in an historic context among the most impressive of these Games.

Nordic combined matches the grace and skill of ski jumping (perhaps the original winter “extreme” sport), with the gut-wrenching stamina of cross-country skiing. A medal finish in Nordic combined had, through 20 Winter Olympics, remained one of the last unfilled achievements in our nation’s vaunted Olympic tradition. And unlike in other sports where high-dollar endorsement deals and relaxed rules on professional participation (e.g. hockey), Nordic combined athletes have to scratch and claw by various means to support their training. In Johnny’s case, that included working as a fly fishing guide on the Yampa River and other waters in northern Colorado. Taught to fish by his father, Jim, Johnny (29) lists fly fishing among his favorite summertime pursuits, and he is an aficionado and collector of fly rods. Apparently, now he is into collecting Olympic hardware also.

Way to go, Johnny. The fly fishing nation–along with all Americans–salutes you.

Stay tuned into the large hill nordic combined event in the coming days. I get the feeling Johnny has another cast at Olympic glory tucked up his sleeve. Any positive mojo you might send in his direction is well-deserved.