Steamboat Springs Most of the young Nordic Combined athletes who came to Steamboat Springs this week for the Mountain Resorts World Cup B share the goal of making it to the next level.
On Saturday, hometown favorite Todd Lodwick, who is on a break from World Cup A, gave the young combiners a taste of what they might expect when they arrive at the higher-level World Cup A tour. It was the first of two World Cup B events that will take place in Steamboat this weekend.
"It's good he is competing in World Cup B, because he is really good. It's a chance to compete against him and see where we stand," second-place finisher, Bernhard Gruber said.
Right now, most of the field, including Austrian Gruber, is standing behind Lodwick -- who finished second in a World Cup A event in Lillehammer, Norway, less than a week ago. Lodwick, who is clearly focused on his performance at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, will most likely hang
up his skis at the end of the season.
On Saturday morning, Lodwick's performance on Howelsen's HS127 helped him gain a 46-second advantage in the afternoon's 15-kilometer cross-country race. Once the skiers strapped on the skinny skis, it didn't take long for the World Cup veteran to increase the margin to 3 minutes. He relaxed a bit down the stretch but still finished 1 minute, 57.4 seconds ahead of Gruber.
"It's good to come from World Cup A and show the level to World Cup B," Lodwick said. "I wanted to ski my own race, and I accomplished it, for sure."
Lodwick said he was thrilled to win a World Cup B in front of hometown fans in Steamboat Springs. Lodwick won World Cup A events here in 1996 and 2001. He also was second in the two-man event at Howelsen in 1996 and in an individual event in 2002 before the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
But Saturday's event was less about winning than it was about Lodwick's plan to prepare for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
"Doing these races in Steamboat is more about Torino than the actual race itself," he said. "I wanted to get some races in at altitude to know how it felt and to know how to pace myself in these longer races."
After an average jumping performance Saturday, Lodwick rebounded with a strong showing on the cross-county track.
"I've jumped better this year," Lodwick said. "But I was able to jump well enough to win, and I could have skied faster in the cross-country race."
Gruber said he knew at the start of the cross-country race that he wouldn't catch Lodwick, but after placing 10th in the jumping, the Austrian skier said he was determined to close the gap.
"Todd was too far away," Gruber said. "I knew that I could ski fast, so I caught Seppi Hurschler, and we worked together."
The Austrian and Swiss skiers picked off Japan's Taihei Kato, Usui Tomoyuki, and Yosuke Hatakeyama, who was second after the jumping, en route to the podium. They also moved past a trio of German skiers and Russian Sergej Maslennikov.
American Eric Camerota, who was 17th after the jumping, also made a bid for the podium, but couldn't compete through all four laps. He broke into the top 10, finishing seventh. His brother Brett Camerota also rallied, moving from 53rd to 16th, and Carl Van Loan climbed from 35th after the jumping to 22nd in the final results.
"I would give us a C for jumping, but an A in the cross-country race," said Dave Jarrett, U.S. Nordic Combined assistant coach. "For the day, we averaged about a B."
The members of the U.S. team will get another shot today when they take to Howelsen Hill for the one-jump, 7.5-kilometer sprint event.
The competition is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with a trial jump. The only official jump will take place at 10 a.m., and the cross-country race is scheduled for 1 p.m. All events will be at Howelsen Hill.
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org