Saturday, February 16, 2002
Olympic Park, Utah It's been a long journey for the members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team. But after Saturday, the athletes are closer than ever to reaching the goal of an Olympic medal.
"It's been 12 years of hard work 365 days a year. There isn't any secret to it," head coach Tom Steitz said after his team placed third in the jumping portion. "It's really just belief and commitment and a long, long process. Every year we've been getting better it's a long way to the top of the world."
On Saturday, however, the four members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team jumped to within reach of earning America's first medal ever in the sport of Nordic combined, which is a mixture of ski jumping and cross country skiing.
"This is definitely one of the most difficult competitions as far as the pressure because you are not just out there skiing for yourself," American skier Matt Dayton said. "You are skiing for your whole team. Everybody did an awesome job of pulling it together today."
Bill Demong led the charge with jumps of 93- and 94-meters off the K-90 jump at Utah's Olympic Park.
"We went into the Olympics with the focus that pressure is good," Demong said. "We love it and we dwell on it."
Todd Lodwick also soared to the top of the pack with two efforts of 92 meters. Dayton (83.5 and 85.5) and Johnny Spillane (87.5 and 87) also helped with solid jumping performances.
The American team is currently trailing first-place Finland and second-place Austria in the standings. Finland will begin today's cross country race with a 44-second advantage over Austria, and 1 minute, 34 seconds ahead of the American team.
Japan will start the race in fourth, just six seconds behind the American team. Germany is in fifth place (17 seconds behind the Americans), and the Czech Republic is sixth (19 seconds behind the Americans). Switzerland will start in seventh place, France will be the eighth team to hit the cross country course, followed by the Russian team, which is ninth. The biggest surprise of the day, however, is that Norway will be the final team to leave the gate in 10th place, more than 4 minutes behind the leaders.
"To beat Germany and Japan in eight jumps, that's something I wouldn't even dream about," assistant American coach Jan-Erik Aalbu said. "To beat them in jumping is more than I could ask for."
Aalbu said he put the team's top skier, Lodwick, in the first group to help get the American team off to a fast start. It was a strategy that paid off by motivating all three jumpers that followed him.
"He was a guy I knew would start off strong," Aalbu said. "If we don't get fired up now, then we will never get fired up."
The U.S. Team was definitely fired up after the event Saturday. Lodwick, Spillane, Dayton and Demong all shared high-fives as they made their way through the media line after the event. Even the normally reserved Steitz came running to take part in the celebration.
"This is our hill," Lodwick said. "We've been training on it so many years and we wanted to come out here and show the United States how strong this team is there is so much magic here it's beyond words. I think we have a chance for silver."
The U.S. Ski Team has never earned an Olympic medal in the sport of Nordic combined.
"We've had a 78-year dry spell I wouldn't mind ending it," Steitz said. "It's really the last thing we need to do. We've done everything else as a nation in the last six or seven years. There is just one stone left unturned, and that's an Olympic medal."