Saturday, February 16, 2002
Park City, Utah Finland may have won Saturday's jumping portion of the Nordic Combined Team event, but the afternoon belonged to the Americans.
After 78 years without a medal in Nordic combined, the United States is within 20 kilometers of making history.
"How did you get here?" one reporter questioned Tom Steitz after the event.
While Steitz's answer was much more detailed, it came down to one simple thing.
What America witnessed at Utah Olympic Park Saturday was the result of hours of cross country training along local roads, the sacrifice of hundreds of coaches in Steamboat and dedication of a small group of athletes.
If the Americans don't win a medal today, it will be devastating to say the least. But to say the members of this team failed would be wrong.
The U.S. Nordic Combined Team is a tale of success and is the result of a formula that will produce top American medal contenders for years to come.
The team's success rides on the back of skiers like Ryan Heckman, Dave Jarrett and Tim Tetreault who cut the path to recognition and will live on in the legs of skiers like Johnny Spillane, Nathan Gerhart, Kris Erichsen and Jed Hinkley who will drive onto the next Olympics.
Sure a medal would be nice for this team, but it is already a success. These days the European skiers know who the Americans are and take them seriously when they step on the jump hill or the cross country course. That wasn't always true.
Outside of Steamboat Springs the sport draws curiosity of most Americans and at the Olympics it may even draw a good-sized crowd.
But let's face it Nordic combined will never reach the level of football, baseball or hockey in the United States. It's not every town that is lucky enough to have a jump located in the heart of downtown.
What does a medal mean for guys like Todd Lodwick, Matt Dayton, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane?
Well, maybe it will help them justify all those hot summer days on the jumps in Utah, and all those cold winter mornings in the Czech Republic when they had to have asked themselves why they were doing it.
Maybe it was all for this one day and for this one moment in history.