Mishaps can't trip up Ski Team

European tour memorable for U.S. skiers

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— It was just like the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles only nobody was laughing.

Unfortunately, for head U.S. Nordic Combined coach Tom Steitz, last month's trip to Europe was not part of a humorous movie although he might take an offer to tell his story to a major studio if it means a few more dollars for his skiers.

"It all started when we missed our plane out of Denver and it went downhill from there," Steitz said.

The team spent most of the trip chasing down luggage, trying to make flights and hoping they would be able to make it back home in time for the holidays.

"It was just a mess," Steitz said. "Everywhere we went something didn't work."

Among the team's woes were missed planes, broken down cars and a couple of heart-stopping crashes that left American skiers injured.

The final leg home took the team 36 hours from Strbske Pleso, Slovakia, but nobody on the team was complaining when the squad finally arrived back at the Harbor Hotel earlier this week. It was after 1 a.m.

"I didn't smile the whole time, but you just have to make the best of a bad situation," veteran skier Todd Lodwick said.

Top results by Lodwick (who was in the top 10 at every event) and teammate Bill Demong helped keep the team's morale up for most of the trip. Steitz also used an excursion to the arctic circle for a traditional Moose dinner to help lighten the mood for the team.

"If it were not for the results, I would have pulled the plug on this trip," Steitz said.

But in between the missed planes, lost luggage and broken down cars the Americans did manage a few bright spots. Lodwick won his first World Cup of the season in Lillehammer as well as posting a fourth- and fifth- place finish in the final two stops in Eastern Europe. Demong was also skiing well before he fell in Slovakia during the final event.

It was one of two crashes during the trip. The first sent Matt Dayton back home before the first competition with a concussion. The Demong crash, which made every European newspaper, was even scarier for the members of the American team.

"I was jumping pretty well before the crash and I was just trying to tweak it a little more," Demong said.

But shortly after leaving the jump, it was apparent that things were not right with Demong's flight.

"You could tell it was way off," Steitz said. "He never really recovered."

For Demong, the details of the jump are a little bit foggy. He recalls most of what happened prior to landing the jump. But what happened after the crash landing is a little more vague.

Demong suffered several facial cuts and a concussion from the fall that forced him out of the event. It still isn't clear if he will ski this week in Steamboat.

"We are taking it one day at a time," Demong said. " I would like to compete in Steamboat, but I have to think about the bigger picture and February."

Steitz said the crash was a freaky thing and that Demong was almost flight-for-lifted from the scene.

In the end, however, Demong received medical attention for the American Scott Blair and went back to the hotel room to recover from the crash.

"There is no doubt we are the walking wounded right now," Steitz said. "We have got two skiers who are healthy and that's it."

The coach, however, said Lodwick, Spillane, Matt Dayton and Jed Hinkley would all compete this week. Demong is questionable and Kristoffer Erichsen, who was injured this summer, is not expected to compete.

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