Utah's Camerota a welcome change

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Two faces on the Nordic combined podium were familiar, but the third was a new and welcome one.

As expected, Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane easily took first and second in the U.S. Nordic Combined Championships on Saturday, but Eric Camerota's third-place finish was certainly the talk of the afternoon at Howelsen Hill.

"It's awesome," Lodwick said. "What a year for him. He's been one of t he guys the team has been looking at for a long time. He should be psyched."

He was.

Camerota, 19, came to Steamboat from Park City looking to finish among the top five. In February, Camerota, who raced most of the season on the World Cup B circuit, finished fifth in the World Junior Championships to earn a spot on next year's World Cup A tour.

Saturday morning, Camerota jumped to a fourth-place finish behind Lodwick, Spillane and special jumper Clint Jones, giving Camerota the opportunity to decide whether he wanted to finish on the Nordic combined podium on Saturday afternoon.

"I was hoping to jump like I did," he said.

Camerota finished the slushy, 10-kilometer course at Howelsen in 26 minutes, 28 seconds, distancing himself from fourth-place finisher Bill DeMong on the third and final lap.

Lodwick finished in 25:59, while Spillane posted the fastest cross country time with a 25:38.

"I was real excited to see Eric step up and get new blood on the podium," DeMong said.

Considering the up-and-down season DeMong has endured, his fourth-place finish was something to be proud of, as well.

In August of 2002, DeMong fractured his skull during a swimming accident. At the time, he was the reigning U.S. Nordic combined champion and had just finished second in a summer Grand Prix event in Germany. He wasn't allowed to ski jump for nearly one full year, and the road back has been trying.

DeMong was determined to resume his place among the top 10 when he returned, despite minimal jump training and a long absence from competition. When it didn't happen, he grew frustrated, but DeMong has continued to work hard all season -- a season that concluded with a fourth-place showing at nationals.

"My skiing was there all winter," DeMong said. "The ski jumping was a ways off, but it's coming back. When you finish the season on an up note after a hard season you're jonesin' to get going again."

Steamboat's Alex Glueck came in fifth, while Park City's Brett Camerota, Eric's twin brother, climbed all the way from 16th at the cross country start to finish sixth.

The 2003-04 Nordic combined and special jumping season concludes this morning with the K-114 competition at Howelsen Hill. The first of two rounds of competition is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Lodwick will be looking for his third U.S. title this weekend and his 12th overall.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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