Led by veterans Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong, the U.S. Nordic Combined team will open the 2005-06 season Thursday in Kuusamo, Finland, with high hopes and high goals.
"Todd, Johnny and Bill have set the standard in training and competition for a while, and the others on our team are responding," coach Bard Elden said. "I feel like the whole team has made improvements, and a team medal is a huge goal this year."
Doing well at the Olympics and building on the team's results in 2002 are the main goals for the team as it moves into the critical first portion of the Nordic Combined season.
"Our expectations are higher than in 2002. We are a much better team, and we are older as a group and much more mature," Spillane said. "I was pretty young in 2002, and I'm definitely a lot better now."
This summer, the team has changed its training schedule, hoping to get the athletes to peak closer to the Olympics. Spillane said results in the first part of the season are important, but the team's priorities are built around making a run at a top Olympic showing.
Spillane, fellow Steamboat Springs native Lodwick and longtime Steamboat resident Demong will make up the core of this year's team.
"All three have high goals and expect a lot of themselves," Elden said. "I'm impressed with the level of commitment in training this summer. I've been with the team for a while, and I've never seen anything like it."
While the majority of the team trains full time in Park City, Utah, Lodwick has been splitting his time training with former U.S. coach Tom Steitz.
"I worked with Tom for most of my career. He understands where I came from and what I need to do to get better," Lodwick said. "We are best friends and have a strong relationship."
Although Elden expects the three Olympic veterans to lead this year's team, he isn't sure which skiers are going to make up the Olympic team that competes in Italy.
Carl Van Loan, Jed Hink--ley and Alex Glueck are expected to contend for the remaining spots along with Brett Camerota and Eric Camerota.
"It's impossible to suggest the Olympic team now," Elden said. "It's going to be a hard fight for those spots."
Although the coach knows he is going to have to make some tough choices in January, he thinks the depth of the U.S. team is a luxury that will make the group stronger when it makes a bid for a medal in February.
"We had some high expectations in 2002, and there is no question that we would have been happy with a medal," Spillane said. "I think we would still be happy with a medal, but now I feel like this team has a shot at gold."
Lodwick said he isn't setting his goals this February on bringing home a medal, but he doesn't deny wanting one.
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail email@example.com