Seeking a storybook ending

Lodwick prepares for his final Olympics

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— It wasn't the Olympics that inspired Jeanne Lodwick to enroll her four sons in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

It was survival.

And it will not be the Olympics that define Todd Lodwick's amazing skiing career when he retires at the end of the 2006 season.

It will be his passion.

His passion for skiing was the result of his mother's desire for survival when the Lodwick boys were growing up in Steamboat Springs.

"There was no way I was going to have four boys in the house every day after school," Jeanne Lodwick said.

So instead of attempting to keep the boys entertained at home or breaking the bank to pay for child care, Jeanne made sure Kris, Todd, Eric and Scott spent their free afternoons at Howelsen Hill, where they could put their youthful energy to good use.

But Jeanne is the first to admit that she never imagined all those afternoons at Howelsen Hill would lead to the United States Ski Team

and eventually to the Winter Olympic Games.

"The Olympics never even crossed our minds," Jeanne said. "It just sort of happened."

But getting a Lodwick to the Olympics was one of the first things that came to mind when Nordic combined coach Tom Steitz first saw Todd ski jump.

Steitz already was coaching Todd's older brother Kris when he witnessed the younger brother's potential.

"He wasn't lighting it up on the jump hill at the time, but I saw a passion and an energy that I knew would make him a competitor," Steitz said.

Although Todd had shown moments of brilliance on the jump hill, he had not been introduced to cross-country skiing, and Steitz had heard rumors about Todd's lax work ethic.

But Steitz couldn't ignore Todd's potential on the hill, and he decided to take a chance on the 14-year-old jumper.

"I told him that if he agreed to join the team, I would sign him up on the spot," Steitz said. "It was gamble, but I didn't have a lot of choices back then."

Todd agreed to join the team, and within months the gamble was paying off for the coach and the athlete.

In his first international competition, Todd won an Intercontinental Cup in Lille--hammer, Norway. Two years later, he became the first Amer--ican to win a Nordic combined World Cup in Steamboat Springs.

Jeanne remembers how excited Todd was the first time he was named to an Olympic Team in 1994.

She said Todd was so young and inexperienced that the magnitude of the Olympic Games was lost on him.

She remembers how excited her son was when he learned that the Olympic Village in Lillehammer had its own putt-putt golf course.

"He told me, 'Mom, you gotta come see this. You can play putt-putt golf here 24 hours a day, seven days a week,'" Jeanne recalled.

The Lillehammer Games sparked a career that stretched 13 seasons and provided a stage bigger than any putt-putt course Todd could imagine.

He's posted six World Cup victories, finished on the podium 26 times, and he owns 17 U.S. National Championships.

He's already been to three Olympics -- Lillehammer, Nagano, Japan, and Salt Lake City. Todd will make his fourth and final Olympic appearance this week when the 2006 Winter Games begin in Turin, Italy.

There is no doubt that the kid from Steamboat wants a medal. But falling short of that goal will not diminish his remarkable career.

"Disappointment and ach--ievement are what you put into it," Todd said. "If I go and know that I did everything that I could these last couple of years and this season and still come up in fourth place -- well, that's just the way it is," Todd said. "I've proved myself on the World Cup, I've proved myself in this town, and I don't think that one race, even if it's at the Olympics, is going to define my career."

Todd was fifth in the sprint event at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and has spent the past four years hoping to improve on that mark, which was the best individual finish for an American Nordic combined skier in Olym--pic history.

He opened the season on the World Cup tour and placed second in Norway before the winter holidays.

But instead of beating up his body on the World Cup tour, he elected to take six weeks off to train and to be with his wife, who was expecting the couple's first child. "It's hard for someone to pull me away from the World Cup tour. I love to compete," Todd said. "It took a child for me to do it, but I'm psyched with the way it's worked out."

During his time off, Todd won two World Cup B events in Steamboat, he won two more national titles, and his wife gave birth to a 7-pound baby girl, Charley Jordan Lodwick, on Dec. 29.

The time away hasn't seemed to hurt Todd. Last week, he returned to the World Cup in Austria and finished on the podium twice.

"It's been hard to stay home and away from the World Cup circuit," Todd said. "It's been hard training on my own, and you don't really know if it's working. But I sat down with Tom at the start of the year, and we figured out what was best for me. We stuck to it, and it seems to be working."

After years of success and more top results than any other American skier in his sport, Todd said he is looking forward to the 2006 Olympics and another shot at a medal that has eluded him for more than a decade.

"You always want to have a storybook ending ... no matter where you are at in your career," Todd said. "There is still one thing missing, and that's the hardware."

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