Americans place fifth in team event

Spillane pushes on through injury

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This year's U.S. Nordic combined World Championship team went to Oberstdorf, Germany, to win medals.

The wait continues after the Americans placed fifth in the team event Wednesday in Day 8 of the 2005 International Ski Federation's Nordic World Ski Championships.

"I'm sure they'll be disappointed with fifth just because they've done that before," said Todd Wilson, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic director and former Olympian.

"The more times they go into battle, sooner or later they'll pop through."

The Americans were in position to medal after Wednesday's ski-jumping portion, thanks to a 129.5-meter jump from Bill Demong and a career day from Carl Van Loan. Van Loan gave the team a boost with jumps of 125.5 and 126 off the K-120 hill.

The Americans, with Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, began the 4x5 kilometer relay 36 seconds behind leader Norway.

Norway held on for the win after the cross-country ski race, and Germany leapfrogged Austria, Finland and the United States to place second.

Demong, Van Loan and Lodwick had the Americans in third through their legs of the relay, but Spillane, who is competing despite a lower back injury, couldn't keep the Americans in bronze medal position.

Austria's Felix Gottwald and Finland's Hannu Manninen passed Spillane on the final lap.

Spillane had skied just once in the previous week and didn't have the stamina to hold off two of the world's premier Nordic combined athletes.

Efforts to reach the Americans and coach Bard Elden in Germany were unsuccessful. Wilson said he hadn't spoken with anyone abroad. The only person he has talked to is Scott Blair with SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Blair recently returned from Germany, where he was sent to work on Spillane's back before the opening of the World Championships.

Spillane injured his lower back in jump training before the first combined event last week. Despite the disappointing finish overall, there were several highlights from the day, including Demong's continued successful return from a major head injury and the personal-best day from Van Loan, Wilson said.

"Todd, Johnny, Bill and Carl. This is the best team the U.S. has ever had in this sport," he said. "I'm happy for Bill, but we all know Billy has it and has done it before. Carl is the one I'm impressed with, especially with his jumps (Wednesday)."

The World Championships aren't over for the Americans. The only event remaining is the individual sprint Sunday. Spillane is the defending world champion. Unfortunately, he won't be at his best to defend his title. The best hope for a medal then falls on Lodwick and Demong, and Wilson said not to count out the Americans just yet.

"Bill might be a surprise," he said. "He's come on real strong and showing his best results in a couple years. I'm just optimistic they can come through if Johnny can't make it."

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