Winter Olympics Journal

February 26, 2010 10:35 PM

Robbins (and hat) still along for Olympics ride


The thousands of fans heading to the nordic venues at Whistler Olympic Park the past couple weeks probably haven't noticed a quiet guy in a Red Sox baseball cap and a U.S. Ski team jacket, clutching a styrofoam Dunkin' Donuts cup with a plastic lid.

That's DC Robbins, and in the cup are some of his father's ashes.

Paul Robbins, DC's dad, was well-known in ski journalism circles as the guy in the rainbow tam-o-shanter who presided over U.S. skiing press rooms and teleconferences.

He could pull a response from reticent skiers, remember race results from decades ago and elicit groans or rolled eyes with cornball jokes and nicknames.

For 30 years, Robbins was a fixture at ski races around the world and at the bottom of press releases and emails that kept journalists up to date on latest results by American skiers and snowboarders.

Robbins, 68, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago this week, hours after moderating a teleconference call that featured Lindsey Vonn from Whistler after she wrapped up the World Cup downhill title.

The call included a Robbins touch -- he arranged for Picabo Street to be a surprise addition to the call, knowing the star had been a mentor to Vonn.

My first week at the 2010 Olympics at Whistler, I kept thinking I saw him -- wire-rimmed glasses, rainbow hat, grey walrus mustache. With Paul, you always got a cheery, sometimes bellowed, greeting audible across the pressroom. He made you feel welcome. To this day, he is missed.

A former UPI bureau chief and military information officer in Korea, he had an encyclopedic memory for ski race results that went back years. He had a way of making you feel welcome, even if you were new to the room. Give him a name, and he'd give you a story idea.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Nordic combined team won unprecedented Olympic silver. After the medal was secure, DC led a small cluster of ski journalists and officials to the bottom of a ramrod-straight spruce, a short hike from the finish line at the cross-country venue.

Robbins had made friend Peter Graves, the NBC analyst, promise that if he outlived him, Graves would make sure to bring his ashes to the next Olympic Games. And vice versa.

DC dug a hole in the snow and deposited some of the ashes, and others sprinkled the hole with snow. There's a little bit of Robbins buried at the finish line at the World Cup stop at Beaver Creek, Colorado too.

"Paul Robbins is proud," nordic combined team member Billy Demong wrote on his Twitter account after the team event.

That night, nordic combined silver medalists Todd Lodwick brought Robbins' hat along for the medal ceremony. Shiny silver medals shared a podium with a rainbow tam.

Robbins had a special place in his heart for the Nordic guys, who toil in sweat and obscurity compared to their alpine counterparts. He would have enjoyed these Games, watching the Nordic combined team make history.

On Thursday, I saw D.C. again, carrying the cup on the bus to the ski jump venue, where the final Nordic combined event would be held.

"I thought he'd like to see this," he said, and talked about how much he missed his dad.

That day, the U.S. won gold and silver. The tam made another appearance at the victory party. It was the first U.S. Olympic gold in a nordic sport (cross-country skiing, ski jumping, biathlon, nordic combined) in the history of the Games.

We knew that. But we sure wish Robbins was here to tell us anyway. (Paul Robbins. Photo/Associated Press)

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