Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs' current U.S. Ski Team star, Todd Lodwick, took first in the Nordic Combined World Cup competition in Norway, securing America's best hope for a gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics in this event.
In Lillehammer, Norway, Lodwick, who in recent years has been best known for his superior cross-country racing skills, stunned the field of the world's best Nordic Combined athletes Saturday by winning the 90-meter jumping event with 195.5 points to set the tone for the weekend.
Lodwick jumped 80 and 83 meters, topping Finn Jaakko Tallus' jumps of 84.5 and 78 meters, worth 190.5 points.
The jumping event was moved from the 120-meter jump to the 90-meter jump because of heavy snow.
The second leg of the Nordic Combined competition, a 15-kilometer cross-country ski race, was held Sunday in Beitostolen, Norway. Lodwick's winning jumps earned him a 25-second start over Tallus and a 93-second start over World Cup champion Felix Gottwald of Austria. In 18-degree weather, the American led the field the entire way, increasing his lead in the first 2 kilometers of the race. Lodwick crossed the finish line 1:11.7 in front of second-place finisher Gottwald.
"I wanted to go out at about 80 percent and see how I felt," Lodwick said, "but at 2 Ks I was up 1:55 and I figured I was in good shape and I backed off. After not feeling 100 percent (a week earlier because of sickness) in Kuopio (Finland), this feels really good.
"I wish all the World Cups were like this. I won last year in Steamboat by 40 seconds and won the first time (December 1995) by more than a minute, but then it was a second and a half in Schonach (January 1998) and another sprint at the end in Holmenkollen (1998), so this was more fun," Lodwick told reporters in Norway.
During the past two seasons, Lodwick, a two-time Olympian, struggled with his jumping after previously being among the best Nordic Combined jumpers in the world.
This fall he took a few months off from skiing to refresh and refocus before winter World Cup events. Now, with new skis and boots, Lodwick said he feels confident. In the past three World Cup competitions, Lodwick has placed seventh, sixth and first.
"I took a two-month break and found a new head (mental approach). These weren't the best conditions, certainly not optimal, but you take what you can get," Lodwick said Saturday after jumping. "It's been snowing all week, so you just have to ignore the conditions because it's tough for everyone. Definitely, the head played a big role today. They were average jumps, distance-wise, but in these conditions, they were good."
Bill Demong may have fallen prey to the conditions in the first round of jumping. He landed his first try at only 63.5 meters, ranking him 40th after the first round. But Demong found his legs in the second round, nailing a 87.5-meter jump, the longest in the second round.
That effort moved him up to 10th after jumping and eventually led to Demong finishing 12th after the cross-country ski race.
Johnny Spillane was in 28th place after jumping but didn't compete in the cross-country race because of illness.
Lodwick celebrates his first World Cup win this season and his fifth since he has been competing. After three events this season, he sits fourth overall, with 265 points. Germany's Ronny Ackermann is leading the field with 345 points and Gottwald and Kristian Hammer of Norway are tied for second with 345 points. Demong is 18th with 95 points and Spillane is 32nd with 45 points.
The next World Cup event is in Poland next weekend.