July 20, 2013 Updated: July 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm
It might be a midsummer night in an odd-numbered year, but the moment represents much more for U.S. pairs figure skating Olympic hopefuls Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.
By lighting the torch Friday to officially open the Rocky Mountain State Games as part of the city's second Olympic downtown celebration, the Broadmoor Skating Club duo also will use the festivities to mark a countdown of sorts to the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
"This is an Olympic year for us," said Coughlin, just six months removed from major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. "Any time you're around an Olympic torch, it's very inspiring. That speaks for itself. Now, everything we do is working toward the national championship and Olympic trials, so it makes everything extra exciting."
The Rocky Mountain State Games ends its first full weekend of competition early this Sunday when cyclists take to "America's Mountain" at the fourth annual Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb, presented by The Broadmoor. The Broadmoor is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp, whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.
Last July, Denney and Coughlin witnessed fellow Americans Kristi Yamaguchi and Bret Hedican carry out torch-lighting duties in the inaugural downtown celebration that also let more than 20,000 spectators share in the joy of the London Games opening ceremonies.
"We've very excited about this opportunity," Denney said. "Last year, we had a smaller role. Kristi was the headliner, and I'm a big fan of hers. To step into that role is an honor for both of us."
And while Friday's event won't promise international fanfare, don't tell the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which once again is pulling out all the stops, complete with an Olympics-style gathering of athletes within a festival-type atmosphere with live music and something for everyone.
"We've got some big plans to continue to celebrate the Olympic spirit," said Lincoln Floyd, a sponsorship fulfillment coordinator with the Sports Corp.
"Last year, everything was such a big success, and everyone was excited about continuing to establish this as an annual event."
Festivities begin at 5 p.m. along Tejon Street, followed by a parade of athletes competing in the 12th Rocky Mountain State Games from Antlers Park to the corner of Pikes Peak and Tejon to join in the celebration. From 8-10 p.m., live music takes center stage, featuring Lauren Alaine from "American Idol", Jon Pardi and several top acts from Nashville. Tenn.
Entertainment aside, the downtown celebration exists in the new format to further welcome and appreciate the 3,400 athletes nationwide, representing 36 sports.
"We want people to come out, but we also want athletes in the Rocky Mountain State Games to feel special," Floyd said. "This is not just a tournament. This event has deep roots in the community, and we have a lot of pride in it. It's neat for our athletes to truly get a feel of the Olympic spirit."
It even took Denney and Coughlin back in time when each took part in such regional or state competitions, perhaps without an Olympic-style cauldron. Denney participated in the Sunshine State Games, while Coughlin, who grew up in Kansas, cut his teeth at the Sunflower State Games.
"It's really exciting to compete," Coughlin said. "A champion is a champion, and this is something all the competitors can take home and be very proud of."