Johnny Spillane, three-time Olympic silver medalist in Nordic Combined, returned to competition last week at the FIS Summer Grand Prix. After a long knee injury recovery and subsequently difficult World Cup season left the 31-year-old’s plans for the future up in the air, his participation marked an important decision to continue skiing. The question remains, however: how long will he be back for?
When an odd cliff jump landing put Spillane out for four months with a torn ACL and MCL last July, the 12 year World Cup veteran was no stranger to injury. With years of experience dealing with recurring shoulder problems, US Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett called him a “pro at rehab.”
Experienced or not, however, when combined with the break he took from training after Vancouver, the diagnosis left Spillane out of commission for eight months headed into the 2011 season. He didn’t join his teammates in Europe until this January in Seefeld, Austria, with a 44th overall finish.
The 31-year-old seemed to struggle to regain his footing through the rest of the season, especially in the jumps; his best result was a 17th at the pre-World Championships World Cup in Chaux-Neuve, France, and he was far off his jumping form throughout the winter.
As of the end of the season, Spillane’s future plans with the team were left uncertain. In March, he said to FasterSkier, “I still have a desire to keep skiing so it’s a hard decision to make, that’s for sure.”
With his return to competition at the Grand Prix last week, however, it seems Spillane is back in the game, at least for the time being. After the first weekend jumping and rollerskiing in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, where he placed 43rd, he said he felt good and was excited to be back. Despite being disappointed with his first result, Spillane said his knee didn’t give him any trouble, and he felt good overall.
“I wanted to take some time after last season to see how I felt about everything,” he said in a phone interview. “I talked with my family and my coaches, and I’m psyched to be training again.”
Asked if he is aiming for the the 2013 Val di Fiemme World Championships or what would be his fifth Olympics in Sochi, Spillane didn’t make any promises. With his health never a guarantee, he said he is taking the rest of his career “one step at a time.”
The decision to continue competing on the travel-intensive World Cup circuit became even more difficult with the birth of his daughter Hadley last August. “You definitely have to make adjustments,” he said. “You can’t be quite as selfish as an athlete as you were before.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.