Russia stays, and clean athletes scratch heads |

Russia stays, and clean athletes scratch heads

If this turns out to be Thomas Bach’s defining moment, here’s what the leader of the International Olympic Committee will be remembered for: keeping Russia as part of the club, but losing the trust of thousands of athletes who thought that, maybe this year, they’d get the answers they’ve been looking for.

In a way, the IOC and its president may have saved the Games As We Know Them, with their decision Sunday not to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio de Janeiro Games. No less than Russian President Vladimir Putin was making references to the potential fracturing of the Olympic movement if his country was kicked out completely.

But the Games As We Know Them are now filled with wide-scale, unapologetic drug cheating, as was documented in a pair of independent reports that gave an unflinching look at a top-to-bottom doping program involving Russia’s government and trickling down to hundreds of the country’s athletes.

The IOC ultimately favored “individual justice” over “collective responsibility” — words Bach used repeatedly to describe the moral calculations of this first-of-its-kind judgment. And there were some legitimate arguments to be made about, say, the group of gymnasts or the dozens of clean athletes in any sport that shouldn’t be kicked out because of the misdeeds of others.

But, as Bach noted: “This might not please everybody.”

Where to start?

Maybe with those thousands of athletes who have tirelessly filled out “whereabouts” forms over the years, then allowed themselves to be woken in the dark of night, or met while out for dinner, by an agent tasked with collecting urine samples as part of the comprehensive out-of-competition-testing programs that exist in dozens of countries.

Maybe with those who’ve been directly cheated out of medals by a Russian doper.

“Eight years of my life as a professional runner, and my entire professional career has been a farce, basically,” American runner Alysia Montano said earlier this month, in tears after tripping and falling and failing to qualify for what would’ve been a chance to earn the Olympic medal that still hasn’t come her way.

While keeping the individual vs. collective argument at their disposal, IOC members also heard Sunday from Russian Olympic leader Alexander Zhukov, who urged them not to bow to “geopolitical pressure” and issue the blanket ban.

Clearly, this decision had every bit as much to do with politics as clean sports.

It’s why the IOC ended up with a handful of actions that, frankly, do not live up to the standards of what world anti-doping rules are trying to achieve.

— The IOC’s call to bar from Rio any Russian athlete who had previously served an anti-doping ban runs counter to a 2011 decision that made it impermissible to do that very thing. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that such a punishment amounted to double jeopardy. Zhukov said he didn’t agree with the latest IOC ruling but that Russia would not appeal it. That doesn’t mean individual athletes cannot. It has whiffs of a politically driven bargain.

— The IOC’s rejection of whistleblower Yulia Stepanova’s request to compete under a neutral flag may have been academic, since Stepanova was injured and no sure thing to line up. Bach said the IOC considered the timing of Stepanova’s information dump — after she’d been cast aside by the Russian team — along with her record of doping. Still, the message it sends, “is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

— The IOC’s decision to let the 28 summer sports determine the eligibility of their athletes puts the federations in a nearly impossible situation. How, in 10 days, can any organization set reasonable parameters to determine who’s been operating clean and who hasn’t?

But those calls, Bach and the IOC ruled, are for others to make.

The one they did make keeps Russia engaged in the Olympics — not an altogether surprising result, considering the country recently spent $51 billion on the Sochi Games, which have now been proven to be as drug-tainted and corrupt as any in history.

It’s a result that falls short of the “toughest sanctions available,” which is what Bach promised when the latest report on Russia’s doping scandal came out last Monday.

“A sad day for clean sport” said Joseph de Pencier, CEO of the Institute for National Anti-Doping Organizations, which represents 59 agencies across the globe.

But a happy day for Russia.

Froome makes emotional Tour victory speech

PARIS — After the beer and champagne celebrations, Chris Froome delivered a sobering and emotional message from the Tour de France winner’s podium on the Champs-Elysees.

Ten days after the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice that killed 84 people, Froome — a Kenyan-born British rider who often trains on the French Riviera — reminded everyone what the Tour stands for.

“These events put sport into perspective but they also show why the values of sport are so important to free society,” Froome said on Sunday in a prepared speech. “We all love the Tour de France because it’s unpredictable but we love the Tour more for what stays the same — the passion of the fans for every nation, the beauty of the French countryside and the bonds of friendship created through sport. These things will never change.

“Thanks for your kindness in these difficult times,” Froome added, switching to French as he addressed the local fans. “You have the most beautiful race in the world. Vive le Tour, Vive la France.”

Cheered on by thousands of fans undeterred by the recent spate of violence across Europe, Froome celebrated his third Tour title in four years. He finished safely at the back of the main pack in the final stage, arm-in-arm with his teammates during the mostly ceremonial leg ending on the cobblestones below the Arc de Triomphe.

Immediately afterward, Froome was greeted by his wife and infant son, who he took in his arms.

“To Michelle my wife and my son Kellan, your love and support make everything possible. Kellan, I dedicate this victory to you,” Froome said, also thanking his teammates and coaches.

Andre Greipel of Germany won the 21st leg in a sprint finish.

At the start of the stage, Froome dropped back to his Team Sky car to collect bottles of beer and distributed them to each of his eight teammates for a celebratory round.

Then it was time for the traditional flute of champagne.

Froome rode a yellow bike to go with his yellow jersey, helmet, gloves and shoes. His teammates had yellow stripes on their jerseys and yellow handlebars on their bikes.

Froome also still had bandages on his right knee and elbow, the result of a downhill crash two days ago.

Froome finished with an advantage of 4 minutes, 5 seconds ahead of Romain Bardet of France, while Nairo Quintana of Colombia placed third overall, 4:21 back.

Only four men — five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain — now have more Tour victories than Froome.

“I’ve definitely grown to appreciate this history of the sport a lot more,” Froome said. “Being in the position that I’m in now, I’m understanding how tough it is to win a race like the Tour de France. To win back-to-back editions and now to be a three-time winner is incredible. It’s beyond what I’ve ever dreamed.”

While other big riders of his generation like Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali have all three Grand Tours — the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — Froome plans to keep his focus on the Tour.

“It would be my dream to keep coming back to the Tour de France for the next five, six years,” he said. “I’ve already won it three times and I wouldn’t say the novelty is wearing off. … It’s the biggest event we have on our calendar and to be here in the yellow jersey, it’s every cyclist’s dream.”

Compared to his wins in 2013 and 2015, Froome has become more adept at handling speculation that he is doping. After facing constant accusations during last year’s race — including a spectator yelling ‘doper!’ and hurling a cup of urine at him — Froome released some of his training data at the end of last year.

“I think I’ve put that to rest now,” he said. “I’ve really done a lot in terms of offering up my physiological data and trying to be open to people as much as I can while protecting a competitive advantage at the same time.”

Froome took the yellow jersey with a daring downhill attack in Stage 8, padded his lead with a late breakaway in Stage 11, and overcame a motor bike crash on the legendary Mont Ventoux and a fall on a slippery descent in the Alps with two stages to go.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme complimented Froome for showing “panache” after his downhill attack in the Pyrenees, and the fans have treated him better, too.

“The atmosphere on the roads has been fantastic,” Froome said. “The French public, they make this race what it is.”

Out of respect for the Nice victims, Froome refused to discuss race details the day after the attack. But he lauded Tour organizers for deciding to keep the race going.

“It’s been a really strong sign,” he said, “that life goes on and it’s not going to be stopped by these terrorist activities.”

Griffey Jr. and Piazza inducted into Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Two players who began their careers at opposite ends of the spectrum nearly three decades ago ended up in the same place on Sunday — with their names etched on plaques at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, the culmination of their long journeys was tinged with tears all around.

“I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed,” Griffey said, staring out at his family and tens of thousands of fans. “I can’t describe how it feels.”

The two became a piece of history on their special day. Griffey, the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft, became the highest pick ever inducted. Piazza, a 62nd-round pick the next year —No. 1,390 — is the lowest pick to enter the Hall of Fame.

Griffey played 22 big-league seasons with the Mariners, Reds and White Sox and was selected on a record 99.32 percent of ballots cast, an affirmation of sorts for his clean performance during baseball’s so-called Steroids Era.

A 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Griffey hit 630 home runs, sixth all-time, and drove in 1,836 runs. He also was the American League MVP in 1997, drove in at least 100 runs in eight seasons, and won seven Silver Slugger Awards.

Griffey, who fell just three votes shy of being the first unanimous selection, hit 417 of his 630 homers and won all 10 of his Gold Gloves with the Seattle Mariners. He played the first 11 seasons of his career with the Mariners and led them to the playoffs for the first two times in franchise history.

“Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners, from the day I got drafted, Seattle, Washington, has been a big part of my life,” Griffey said, punctuating the end of his speech by putting a baseball cap on backward as he did throughout his career.

“I’m going to leave you with one thing. In 22 years I learned that one team will treat you the best, and that’s your first team. I’m damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”

Dubbed “The Natural” for his effortless excellence at the plate and in center field, Griffey avoided the Hall of Fame until his special weekend because he wanted his first walk through the front doors of the stately building on Main Street to be with his kids, whom he singled out one by one in his 20-minute speech.

“There are two misconceptions about me — I didn’t work hard and everything I did I made look easy,” Griffey said. “Just because I made it look easy doesn’t mean that it was. You don’t become a Hall of Famer by not working, but working day in and day out.”

Griffey’s mom, Birdie, and his father, former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Sr., both cancer survivors and integral to his rise to stardom, were front and center in the first row.

“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game and to my mom, the strongest woman I know,” Junior said. “To have to be mom and dad, she was our biggest fan and our biggest critic. She’s the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others.”

Selected in the draft by the Dodgers after Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza’a father, Vince, put in a good word, Piazza struggled.

He briefly quit the game while in the minor leagues, returned and persevered despite a heavy workload as he switched from first base to catcher and teammates criticized his erratic play.

Mom and dad were foremost on his mind, too.

“Dad always dreamed of playing in the major leagues,” said Piazza, just the second Hall of Famer depicted on his plaque wearing a Mets cap, after Tom Seaver in 1992.

“He could not follow that dream because of the realities of life. My father’s faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you dad. We made it, dad. The race is over. Now it’s time to smell the roses.”

Piazza played 16 years with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics and hit 427 home runs, including a major league record 396 as a catcher. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top five of his league’s MVP voting four times.

Perhaps even more impressive, Piazza, a .308 career hitter, posted six seasons with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 batting average (all other catchers in baseball history combined have posted nine such seasons).

Though the Dodgers gave him his start, Piazza found a home in New York when he was traded to the Mets in May 1998.

Three years later, he became a hero to the hometown fans with perhaps the most notable home run of his career. His two-run shot in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium lifted the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Piazza paid tribute to that moment.

“To witness the darkest evil of the human heart … will be forever burned in my soul,” Piazza said. “But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and eventual healing.

“Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21st, but the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders that knew that they were going to die, but went forward anyway. I pray that we never forget their sacrifice.”

Attendance was estimated at around 50,000 by the Hall of Fame, tying 1999 for second-most all time.

Aspen filmmaker taking to the sky in ‘Flying Boat’

An Aspen filmmaker is taking to air, sea and land for a new documentary on a little-known piece of aviation history.

Dirk Braun, best known locally for his commercial film work with his Red Mountain Productions, is digging into the history of the Grunman Albatross flying boats and the curious cast of characters who fly and preserve them today.

“I regard them as the ultimate adventure machine,” Braun, 30, said on a recent afternoon in the cafe at the Aspen Art Museum. “They’re amphibious machines and some of the most diversely capable machines ever created.”

Now in production, “Flying Boat” will be Braun’s feature debut. It will profile the pilots, history buffs and surfers who use them today while also exploring the aircraft’s history. The Albatross went out of production in 1961, but its heyday was the 1930s, when its popularity coincided with the elegance and adventure of early aviation.

“These are relics from the golden age of aviation,” said Braun, who moved to Aspen five years ago after studying film at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “They’re like flying yachts.”

Originally designed for search-and-rescue missions, the flying boats can take off and land on water and on the ground. In total, 466 of the planes were constructed. There are about a dozen still flying around the world.

The best-known flying boat in history isn’t an Albatross — it’s Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose,” which flew just once for about 30 seconds in 1947. The Albatrosses, by contrast, Braun noted, have circumnavigated the globe and landed in nearly every region on Earth.

Jimmy Buffett wrote about his Grunman Albatross — a 1955 model nicknamed “Hemisphere Dancer” — in his memoir “A Pirate Looks at 50” and the song “Jamaica Mistaica,” which recounts him being shot down by Jamaican police.

Charles Lindbergh flew one of the planes on a South American tour in 1929, two years after his trans-Atlantic flight made him one of the most famous men in the world. Lindbergh climbed out of the hatch and onto the plane’s bow at one point to shoot aerial photos on a flight to Venezuela, according to an account in the book “The China Clipper: The Age of the Great Flying Boats.” Braun and his team plan to do the same during an upcoming flight around Manhattan, in homage to Lindbergh.

Among Braun’s film subjects is Tom Casey, a New York-based novelist and pilot who restored an Albatross from an “aviation graveyard” in Arizona. On Aug. 1, Braun will join Casey — also a co-producer on the film — for the flight along the Hudson River Valley and around the New York City skyline.

The art deco marine air terminal at LaGuardia Airport is among the New York locales that have survived since the Albatross’ early days. Braun plans to film there and to re-enact scenes from the Albatross’ pre-World War II exploits in the film. Braun also plans to film with pilots and collectors around Connecticut, the lakes of northern Minnesota and central Texas, the beaches of Florida and in Bermuda, where Pan Am once flew regular Albatross flights. Billabong has used the planes for surf expeditions, taking advantage of the plane’s ability to anchor at sea and allow surfers to paddle into waves from the flying boat.

“Just a handful of people still fly them,” Braun said. “They’re all interesting, and they all have a different story of what brought them to flying boats.”

Science column: Our humble but impactful prairie

The majority of Coloradans depend on the prairie – and don’t even know it. It’s much more than a flat carpet of tumbleweed-infested dirt clods – it’s an economic catalyst. Covering about 40 percent of the state, it impacts mountain towns and underlies the Mile High City.

A prairie is an ecosystem or habitat. Here in Colorado it exists east of the Rocky Mountain foothills, on a rolling landscape that’s part of North America’s Great Plains.

But Colorado’s plains aren’t like those of the Midwest’s Corn Belt. They’re a mile high because when the Rockies rose upward 70 million years ago they lifted the plains like canvas over a tent pole. Since then, the part of this landscape that underlies most Front Range cities has been dissected by rivers, creating a broad, bowl-shaped valley littered with small hills. Called the “Piedmont,” from Italian, meaning “at the foot of the mountain,” this region differs from the flatter terrain to the east, known as the “High Plains” or “Eastern Plains.”

The most direct economic impact of our prairie is on agriculture, a multibillion dollar industry in eastern Colorado. By understanding of how native prairie ecosystems succeeded, we’ve harnessed the soils and unique climate of the plains to grow corn, wheat, hay and sugar beets, and to raise cattle, sheep and poultry. Hemp is a recent addition.

The high elevation of these settings makes it challenging to live or to farm there, because they’re more susceptible to temperature extremes. And to wind. If you’ve spent time here, you know what I’m talking about. Autumn wind. Winter wind. Spring wind. And of course, the summer winds.

Farming the prairie isn’t straightforward, and many failed during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when a series of droughts, overcultivation and deep plowing caused massive erosion of the topsoil. Collapse of the region’s agricultural community soon followed. Many of these abandoned efforts were purchased by the government and consolidated into the Pawnee and Comanche National Grasslands, where short- and mid-grass prairie and its associated fauna are slowly returning to their natural state.

Fortunately, many of the prairie’s physical and biological components are resilient, and biologists and conservationists are working to protect those that aren’t. The prairie’s anchoring fauna and flora have evolved to repatriate disturbed and new areas, so in some cases they can be successfully reintroduced to plains habitat. Witness the ongoing prairie rehabilitation of Colorado’s most toxic cold war relics – the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Flats.

Surprisingly, the prairie has a strong impact on mountain ecosystems. For example, the prairie is the breeding ground for miller moths. Plentiful supply of these nocturnal pals is pretty important – once hatched, they migrate from the prairie up to mountain meadows, where they pollinate vast numbers of wildflowers, providing a foundation for local food webs. Prairie-born moths are also a yummy and nutritious food source for all sorts of mountain beasts – from tiny bats to hulking bears. To learn more, see

Mountains also affect the prairie, acting like the lead cyclists who break the wind for riders drafting behind them. In the case of the Rockies, eastward-moving moist air rises over the peaks, loses moisture and flows past the Front Range and much of eastern Colorado without dumping much precipitation. This “rain shadow” is what keeps the eastern half of Colorado so dry, even in winter.

The dearth of rainfall means our prairie has few tall grasses or trees. Instead it’s dominated by short- and mid-height grasses. These grasses are drought-, cold-, heat- and grazing-resistant, and can go dormant when conditions are unfavorable. They have amazing root systems to help them survive. In creek bottoms and lowlands where taller counterparts of these grasses lived, early settlers cut the grass’ sod into bale-shaped blocks, using them to construct homes. The root structure of such sod is oodles stronger than that of the turf you see on fields and lawns today. You can visit one of these homes at the Plains Conservation Center or at the Wheat Ridge Historical Society.

Today’s prairie endures as tiny patches on the plains’ quilt of agriculture, urban life and invasive species. Its humble terrain houses an incredible diversity of plants, animals and scenic vistas. By carefully shepherding its resources and diversity, it can grow, be enjoyed and support our future.

James Hagadorn, Ph.D., is a scientist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Suggestions & comments welcome at

Colorado Vietnam veteran photos all found

It’s done!

Maui florist Janna Hoehn and her team of volunteers recently found the last missing picture of all of our 626 men killed in the Vietnam War and the state of Colorado now has a complete set of pictures for the Wall of Faces exhibit that will soon be a part of the Vietnam Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.

In April 2015 Janna typed a list of 281 missing pictures from the 626 lost in Colorado, a whopping 45 percent of our men lost in that war, and started to contact newspapers, television stations and radio shows all over Colorado.

Simultaneously she was working to find missing pictures in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and her home state of Hawaii. She had set out, from the west, to attempt to complete state sets that might ultimately locate all 58,315 pictures of those killed in action in the Vietnam War.

Her quest being to leave future America generations with a moving addition to the already solemn and much-visited Vietnam Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C. It is there that an addition is about to be made in the form of an underground gallery that will soon open called the Education Center that will display pictures of those lost in the war.

About eight years ago, when Janna visited the memorial she was appalled to discover the number of missing pictures on hand at the Vietnam Memorial and considered it a slight to those who had given every last measure of themselves in an ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. Janna set out to do her part by finding 42 missing pictures of veterans from her island of Maui and was then asked to help with the state of Hawaii. A difficult task, wherein she had to travel to the far-reaching islands of her home state that only recently was completed after a four and a half year quest.

It occurred to Janna that many other states likewise needed just such an effort. However, with 32,000 missing pictures from the national collection, just where would one begin in such a huge country as America? Suddenly the answer seemed simple, just start moving from west to east and see what happens.

And “what happened” was a hunt that has now resulted in complete sets of pictures for the states of South Dakota, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Alaska, and now Colorado. The Western states of Wyoming and New Mexico had already completed their sets, while a group of ladies in Arizona informed Janna that they would work to find their own missing pictures.

To find 281 pictures an emphasis was required in no less than 36 different counties throughout Colorado.

If newspapers tended to bring in the largest share, it was the quiet competence of reference librarians and school officials that marked a major turning point in Janna’s ultimate haul. When all else failed mayors, sheriffs and police chiefs were asked to join in and always met the challenge.

Along the way was one touching account after another and tears feel at times. Uncovered were pictures of men declared missing in action who, years later have been placed into a “assumed dead” category.

Telephone calls to those alive who remembered their brothers solicited tears of joy from a younger brother in the San Luis Valley — as he was asked to help, he informed that although he was 60 miles from any town, he would get on a motorcycle this very moment to get the picture to Janna.

Perhaps no conversation in all of Colorado could match that of the sister of Gerald and Rodrick Whalen. As the call concluded it seemed appropriate to tell her of the sorrow one feels for her that she had lost two brothers and a cousin in that war. With characteristic Western rugged female grit, that comment was “stopped right in its tracks.” Amazingly was this “oh, no, don’t be sorry for my family, my family is proud of their men, there’s nothing to feel sorry about for us.”

At other times terrific individual heroism was uncovered in the person Gilbert Hamilton of Denver who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second-highest award for heroism, in the last moments of his life. At least a half dozen cases of heroism worthy of the coveted Silver Star Medal also coming to light in the hunt for Colorado’s last missing pictures.

It was inspiring, even if tearful, to go into so many amazing corners of the beautiful state of Colorado to find all of those missing pictures.

And now in the face of 11,000 pictures still missing nationwide, even though she has personally posted about 4,000 herself, it is time for Janna to look for the last two missing pictures from the states of Washington and Nebraska as she sets her sights upon crossing the Mississippi River, state-by-state until the gallery in the Vietnam Memorial is representative of all 58,315 engraved on The Wall just above

All of that is for another day, for now this is a time for all of Colorado to be proud that Janna Hoehn and her volunteers cared about ours even as we thank her and hers that it’s done.

Dana Kwist of Colorado Springs helped Hoehn with her project.

Move leads Rifle Area chamber CEO to resign

After 16 months leading the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce through a transformative period, CEO and President Andrea Maddalone is resigning in advance of her family’s move to northern Idaho.

In an email to chamber members on July 13, Maddalone, a Carbondale native and Silt resident for the past 17 years, framed the decision as the pursuit of a dream long held by her and her family.

Her husband,Thomas Maddalone, recently received a job offer that will grant them the financial freedom for Maddalone, whose last day at the chamber was Friday, to spend more time with their 5-year-old son, Beau. It was a difficult decision, but one that came with a certain level of excitement.

“The door is wide open for me, so I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said in an interview. “Being a mom sounds really exciting.”

Chamber board chair Kasey Nispel, who has been involved with the chamber since 2010, stepped down from her position to serve as interim president and CEO as the board begins a search process. The hope is to have a president in place by September.

Nispel and others joined in expressing support and sadness about Maddalone’s departure.

“I think Andrea has done an amazing job,” said Nispel, who is considering applying for the position. “She had a lot to take on and tackled that.”

George Cutting, a local business owner and chamber ambassador, among other positions, said Maddalone leaves some big shoes to fill.

“The thing that was so special is that (Maddalone’s) energy brought a revitalization to the chamber,” Cutting said. “And our membership is up and we’ve got community building happening, which is what a chamber should be doing. … We’re going to miss her terribly.”

Days after the announcement, Maddalone reflected on her tenure and the broader Rifle area business climate, which has proven more resilient amid the most recent slowdown in oil and gas development compared to previous energy downturns, although, she noted that feeling likely is not universally felt.

“We bounced back quickly and we didn’t dip low … we did face a dip, there’s no doubt. Everybody knows we faced a dip and it was rough for a while, but it wasn’t really low and it wasn’t really long.”

She points to steady sales tax numbers in Rifle — unaudited year-to-date numbers through April show an increase of $119,769 in 2016 compared with 2015 — and other factors as evidence of the current economic stability.

Still, that is not to say the Rifle area is free of challenges, which include lingering hesitation from previous downturns, as well as questions on whether or not the local community can sustain new businesses.

While a number of new businesses opened in the past 16 months, some of those same businesses also closed their doors.

“We have people feeling comfortable to open up businesses. … We have all four corners of our downtown filled. We have cute coffee shops, we’ve got ice cream shops, we’ve got great restaurants. That’s what makes a town,” she said. “And the negative is that they also close, and … is shopping local enough to keep businesses open? Are all the efforts that we try to do keeping businesses open?”

Helping new businesses launch and aiding existing businesses in staying open became the central goal of the chamber during Maddalone’s tenure.

Prior to that shift, the primary focus was on tourism, which remains a smaller part of the chamber’s overall mission.

People have always approached the chamber inquiring how to start a business, and those questions have noticeably increased in the past year, especially once the chamber moved last summer.

In the past, the problem was nobody really knew how to respond to those people interested in starting a business. Gaining that knowledge was part of the chamber’s necessary evolution toward fostering business development and growth.

“Our goal is when somebody walks through the door and says, ‘Hi, I’m interested in starting a business’ … we give them the right direction and we give them the right tools and we give them the right advice,” she said.

Along those lines, the chamber has partnered with Colorado Mountain College in Rifle to offer a series of business courses in the fall. The first course will be free, Maddalone said.

Additionally, the chamber is poised to engage in some long-term strategic planning in the fall. Key to the future direction will be the needs in the community.

“So in five years will we be more tourism-based or business-based? I’d imagine we’ll just adapt with the times, and right now the times are telling us people are comfortable enough to open a business. People are also telling us ‘help us stay in business,’” Maddalone said.

Sunday Profile: Top doc asks, ‘Did I do the best for everybody I saw?’

They say that those who are truly great at what they do often aren’t aware of it.

Perhaps this explains why orthopaedic surgeon Tito Liotta of Glenwood Orthopaedic Center couldn’t imagine how it was that he was voted the Locals’ Choice Best Doctor in Glenwood Springs two years in a row.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know I was up for this award,” Liotta said during an interview earlier this week. “I didn’t even know how people would be nominated in the first place, let alone win. So this is certainly an honor, an unexpected one.”

A local physician since 1996, Liotta’s presence in the community and experience in his field stretch back for decades. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of California San Diego and finishing medical school at UC San Francisco, Liotta completed a residency at the University of Colorado Denver. He then moved on to serve as an orthopaedic surgeon with the Navy for four years.

“I spent about 14 months in Twentynine Palms, California, but was then transferred to southern Spain,” he said. “After three years in Spain, I decided to move on to a fellowship in Indiana.”

It was during this fellowship that Liotta pursued an interest in the specialized discipline of sports medicine. There he worked with a group that cared for the Indianapolis Colts football team, plus athletes from Purdue University, several smaller colleges and about 40 area high schools.

Post-fellowship, Liotta found himself in the market for a bit more stability, a town to call home — and a great place to raise a family. Glenwood Springs seemed like just the ticket.

“After Indiana I thought that ideally I wanted to work in professional sports, but after a few other offers I heard about a job here, with what was then known as Orthopaedic Associates of Aspen and Glenwood,” he recalled. “It seemed to offer the best of both worlds: taking care of highly athletic individuals in an active community that’s a great place to raise kids. So we moved.”

Liotta has since watched his four children, a daughter and triplet sons, grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley. He has also enjoyed pursuing his passions of biking and telemark skiing here, and has been able to grow a practice of which he is proud. Liotta’s primary specialty involves working with the complexities of the shoulder.

“Over the years I guess you could say that I have developed an affinity for taking care of shoulders, and this has become about 70 to 75 percent of my practice,” he said, adding that this work includes “anything from reconstruction of the joint due to instability, to replacement for arthritis.”

As new developments in the field have occurred over the years, Liotta says it has been an exciting challenge to grow and adapt with state-of-the-art technologies.

“When I began here in Glenwood in 1996, arthroscopic shoulder surgery was really in its infancy. Arthroscopy means using an instrument about the size of a pen to go into a joint to work on the area,” he explained. “It’s been fascinating to learn about and utilize new tools and new ways of caring for shoulder patients over the years. Basically, I’ve developed a skill that works for helping people get back to who they want to be.”

Liotta’s patients range from children to middle-aged adults to seniors: a cross-section of the community who come to him for a variety of reasons.

“It’s everyone from the little kid who falls off the jungle gym, to the athlete on the field, to the construction laborer, to the octogenarian who has worn their shoulder out from a lifetime of use,” he noted.

Although Liotta has spent decades honing his surgical technique and staying abreast of the latest developments in orthopaedic medicine, his personal philosophy of care extends far beyond just what goes on in the operating room — and this has made all the difference, he believes. It seems as though Liotta’s patients also believe that this has made a difference: perhaps even enough of one to spur them to vote for him as best doctor in both 2015 and 2016.

“You might say that I’m a little bit of a ‘motherly’ physician in that I don’t just fix someone’s problem and move on to the next,” he said. “I’ve grown to where I want people to be all the way better before they’re discharged. So they stay with me longer and I see them more often just to make sure they’re doing well and aren’t having any problems, as opposed to just reaching simple milestones and saying goodbye.”

Liotta’s patients will be happy to learn that their favorite doctor plans to continue practicing in Glenwood Springs for years to come.

“Nope, I don’t think I will be retiring anytime too soon,” Liotta said. The doctor then stressed that he is filled with gratitude.

“At the end of the day, I just ask myself, ‘Did I do enough, did I do the best for everybody I saw?’” he mused. “I truly just want to say thank you: to the community, to my team and my patients. I’m only as good as the people I work with, and work on.”

Flash flood hits western GarCo road

Several vehicles got stuck on Garfield County Road 213 after a flash flood hit at around 7 p.m. Friday. According to a press release from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, the water quickly eroded part of the road at mile marker two, while just two miles up the road, several vehicles got stuck.

According to the press release, residents stepped in to help neighbors who were stuck until county road and bridge workers could get to the scene.

The rain that caused the flooding north of De Beque may have occurred several miles away, but through a series of ravines and gullies, a tremendous amount of water can be brought to a single point, which can spell disaster to the unwary hiker or motorist, the news release noted.

This is not the first flash flood in Garfield County. In the past two years portions of Interstate 70 were flooded near DeBeque in similar instances. The Garfield County sheriff’s office recommends that if water is crossing a road, drivers seek a high point away from the bottoms of ravines and gullies, while the same goes for those hiking or biking.

Fourth annual Glenwood Springs Cruise-A-Thong

The 4th annual Glenwood Springs Cruise-A-Thong took place Saturday morning. The event is a race for the average joe in the form of a triathlon where the most average time wins. The racers started their trek at Veltus Park where they biked to a beach party on the Colorado River, walked the bike path to south Glenwood and floated back to Veltus park via the Roaring Fork River.