Thursday, February 27, 2003
Val di Fiemme, Italy Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs became the first American ever to win a gold medal at the Nordic world championships, drawing inspiration from a diabetic teammate's strong performance a week earlier.
Spillane captured the Nordic combined sprint Friday to give the United States its first world championship medal since cross-country skiing pioneer Bill Koch earned a bronze in 1982.
Among the women, Russians Olga Savialova and Elena Burukina finished 1-2 in the 30K freestyle cross-country race. Savialova won her first major title.
In the ski jump, Poland's Adam Malysz retained his normal-hill title. Norway's Tommy Ingebrigtsen was second and Japan's Noriaki Kasai was third. Alan Alborn of the United States finished 29th.
Spillane was followed by Ronny Ackermann of Germany and Felix Gottwald of Austria. The American erased a 28-second deficit at the start of the sprint, moved into a tie for fourth place and broke away from the leading group in the final meters.
``I just wanted to go out there and lay it on the line,'' Spillane said. ``I knew there was a chance of a medal, but I wasn't expecting victory.''
Spillane was buoyed by Kris Freeman's fourth-place finish in a 15K race last Saturday. Freeman, a diabetic who recently overcame a painful muscular condition, stunned many of the top cross-country skiers by leading the first leg of a relay Tuesday.
``His result really fired us up to do well,'' Spillane said.
Spillane followed his jump of 124 meters with a strong effort in the sprint. Celebrating wildly as he crossed the line, Spillane beat Ackermann and Gottwald by 1.3 seconds.
Savialova, third in the 15K classical and 10K skiathon, was timed Friday in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 29.8 seconds -- 15.3 seconds faster than Burukina. Estonia's Kristina Smigun finished third, 26.9 seconds back. American Aubrey Smith was 39th.
Norwegian star Bente Skari missed her third event because of illness.
In the ski jump, Malysz earned 279 points with jumps of 104 and 107.5 meters. His second jump was the longest of the competition. Ingebrigtsen had 263 points and Kasai had 259.5.