Sunday, February 17, 2002
Soldier Hollow, Utah Nobody at the finish line had to tell Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick the difference between being third and fourth in the Nordic combined team event Sunday.
That's because on this day, it was the difference between Olympic glory and missing his lifelong dream of winning a medal.
No, Lodwick understood the difference better than anyone in the stadium he just had a problem finding the words to explain it.
Following the race, Lodwick attempted to answer a few questions for reporters, but he eventually broke down, kneeling on the ground before he clasped his hands over his head. He left the area a few minutes later without saying another word.
"This was our day to shine and the clouds came in and poured on us," Lodwick said. "I'm very, very disappointed."
Lodwick and the American team had opened the day with high expectations after finishing third in the jumping portion of the four-person team event, which was held Saturday. It was clear the team had hopes of moving up in the 20-kilometer race Sunday.
But after the first leg it became apparent the Americans were just working to hold onto third. Lodwick finished the first 5-kilometer loop in the fifth-fastest time of 12 minutes, 7 seconds. But he gave way to Germany's fast-moving Bjoern Kircheisen at the end of the first lap, which dropped the Americans to fourth.
Bill Demong gave the team a lift in the second leg, posting a time of 11:58 to keep the American squad close to third place.
But that is all the Germans would yield. A fast lap by Mario Stecher (12:11) and the blazing anchor leg of Felix Gottwald (11:33) moved the Germans into second place in the final lap just 7.5 seconds behind Finland, who won the event.
Austria, who was second after the jumping, fell three seconds behind the Germans to earn the bronze, and despite a great anchor leg by Breckenridge native Matt Dayton, the Americans placed fourth, more than a minute out of medal contention.
"I went out going as hard as I could because you never know what will happen," Dayton said. "One of those guys could bonk, run out of energy or fall. You just have to go out and do your best."
But not even Dayton's final lap of 11:50 could pull the Americans back into a medal spot.
It was the best finish ever for an American Nordic combined team, but the looks on the athletes' faces after the race revealed the team had fallen well short of its goal.
"There were three teams way better than us today and we were No. 4 that's the results," assistant coach Jan-Erik Aalbu said. "We need to take some time off and then get fired up again. We need to jump good on Thursday and hopefully we can be close for the race in the sprint event. But we need to turn something around."
Finland continued to dominate these Olympic Games as Jaakko Tallus and Samppa Lujunen claimed their second medals of the games.
"This was a different kind of medal," said Lujunen, who has already won an individual gold medal at these Olympic Games. "This was about team, and about Finland, too. We are very happy to have won today."
The final Nordic combined events of the Olympic Games will begin Thursday with the jumping portion of the individual sprint. That event includes one official jump off the K-120 hill. The events will wrap up with a 7.5-kilometer cross country race Friday.