Hang around the Colorado Springs sports scene long enough, and you'll soon realize this city always enjoys far more than its share of special moments, comparable to much larger major-metro markets.
Such was the case again in 2011. The list is long enough, in fact, that we could fill this space for another month reliving it.
Instead, let's pack it all into one mountainous serving, in no particular order:
• Ryan Bradley, after spending most of his figure-skating career lower on the podium, comes out of a brief retirement and wins the U.S. men's championship in late January at Greensboro, N.C. Then, in March, another Springs-trained skater, Canadian Patrick Chan, wins the world men's title and positions himself for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
• Former longtime Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry, who led the Falcons to many of their greatest victories between 1984 and 2006, earns the highest individual accolade — selection to the College Football Hall of Fame. His enshrinement will be next July at the Hall of Fame's headquarters in South Bend., Ind., minutes from two of his sweetest wins, at Notre Dame in 1984 and 1996.
• We'll never know for sure how many people lined the 5-mile route from Garden of the Gods to downtown for the first USA Pro Cycling Challenge prologue on Aug. 22. Estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000 watching as Germany's Patrick Gretsch wins the time trial, launching the week-long event that wraps up with Levi Leipheimer the winner. Numbers aside, Colorado Springs looks good enough to earn a more exciting stage finish next summer in Challenge II.
• Colorado College hockey finishes strong enough to earn a bottom-end spot in the NCAA Tournament, but hardly anyone gives the Tigers a chance in the first round against defending national champion Boston College. Then, on March 25 at St. Louis, CC jumps to a 4-1 lead after one period, 7-2 at the second intermission and cruises to an 8-4 upset. It's arguably the best single performance on a national stage by any CC team in modern times, but the Tigers hit a wall named Michigan the next night and miss the Frozen Four.
• On a late October night, the 12th class of the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame is inducted, led by Paralympic goalball star Jeni Armbruster, a huge success story after losing her eyesight during her middle-school years in Colorado Springs. With multiple degrees and experiences in hand, Armbruster now works at Portland State University — and hopes to end her career with a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
• Air Force football enters 2011 with high hopes, but a killer schedule sidetracks the Falcons. Yet, on Oct. 1 at Annapolis, Md., Air Force and Navy capitalize on a national TV audience (awarded by CBS, which for the first time televises all three service-academy matchups). The rivals produce a remarkable game, with the Falcons building a huge lead through three quarters, then the Midshipmen roaring back from a 28-10 deficit to force overtime before missing an OT extra point. Air Force scores, makes its kick and celebrates a 35-34 conquest.
• On the night before Thanksgiving, Air Force and the University of Colorado resume their athletic relationship with a men's basketball game at AFA's Clune Arena, and the result probably ensures more non-league meetings for years to come. Air Force outplays CU for most of the night, but the Buffs come back to force overtime and escape with a 76-73 victory.
• For so many years, the fastest drivers in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb had failed to crack the elusive 10-minute barrier in the Race to the Clouds. But on June 26, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima of Japan finally makes history by clocking 9 minutes, 51.276 seconds.
• Honorable mention: So Yeon Ryu of South Korea wins a playoff to capture the 2011 U.S. Women's Open golf tournament at The Broadmoor. ... Air Force hockey stands up to No. 1-ranked Yale in the NCAA Tournament's first round before falling 2-1 in overtime. ... Colorado College joins a group of familiar rivals to help form the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, headquartered in Colorado Springs. ... Thousands of everyday people converge again to compete in the Rocky Mountain State Games. ... Air Force Academy declines an enticing invitation from the Big East Conference (for football only) and decides to remain in the Mountain West Conference.
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