Nordic combined team finishes fifth

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— The members of the U.S. Nordic combined ski team quietly raced to a fifth-place finish at the Nordic Combined World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy Monday.

The finish was quiet because Austria's Felix Gottwald made most of the noise during the four-man team event.

Still, the Americans were pleased with their showing.

"I think this was a pretty darn good performance by the four of us," Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs said. "Working without Billy (Demong who has been out since late summer with a fractured skill), this was amazing to me. I think Jed (Hinkley) and Carl (VanLoan) performed better than a lot of people would've given them credit for."

Gottwald won it for the Austrians by coming from behind on the 5-kilometer anchor leg of the cross country race. Midway through the final lap, Gottwald caught and passed German Ronny Ackermann.

It wasn't an easy task.

Ackermann, who won the combined individual event Friday, had a 3.4-second lead on Gottwald at the start of the final leg of the 20-kilometer relay.

The two skiers traded the lead several times during the final leg of the race. But Gottwald pulled away near the top of an uphill and Ackermann was unable to respond.

Austria went on to win the race by 12.6 seconds. Germany was second, Finland was third and Norway recovered from last year's disappointing showing at the Olympics with a fourth-place finish.

Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, Hinkley and VanLoan skied for the American team. The squad was 3 minutes, 15 seconds behind Austria.

"We made some changes in our jumping after (Friday's individual event)," Spillane said. "That was just so weird ... but I think today Todd and I did more of what we can do."

Coach Bard Elden was also happy with the Americans' jumping performance saying that both Lodwick and Spillane were back to where they needed to be.

The coach and the skiers will get a chance to see if that's true this Friday when they compete in a one jump, 7.5-kilometer sprint event, the final event for the Nordic combined skiers at this year's world championships.

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