Lodwick left out in the cold

Steamboat star finishes eighth in first Nordic combined


Todd Lodwick had Nordic combined skiing in his heart Saturday, but football seemed to be the only thing on his mind.

It wasn't the Denver Broncos' disappointing AFC Championship game that had him down -- it was the effects of a nasty head cold he caught earlier this week in Italy, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

"It felt like I was wearing a football field on my head," Lodwick said after finishing eighth overall in the Nordic combined individual Gundersen event.

Lodwick said he couldn't focus during the morning jumping session, and his 13th-place jump finish wasn't what he had hoped for in the opening event of the Winter Games. In the afternoon, it appeared Lodwick's illness would prevent him from completing the race. But after an extended discussion with coach Tom Steitz, the veteran skier elected to attempt the 15-kilometer cross-country race.

"I think it was a good decision," Lodwick said. "This will be the last time I ski at the Olympics, and I feel like I can recover before the team event."

During the cross-country race, Lodwick moved from 13th to eighth place by posting the sixth-fastest time. He finished 1 minute and 12 seconds behind winner Georg Hettich of Germany. Hettich led the competition after the jumping event, and he held off a hard-charging Felix Gottwald at the finish line to win the two-jump, 15-kilometer Gundersen event.

"The race, I don't think about to win. I only think from kilometer to kilometer," Hettich said. "After the last uphill, I realized I could win a medal, and maybe 50 meters from the finish line, I realized I can win. I am very happy."

Gottwald, an Austrian, started the cross-country race in 11th place and 1 minute and 52 seconds behind the German. Gottwald posted the second-fastest cross-country time as he made his way through the field to catch the lead group.

"Of course (I expected Hettich to win)," Gottwald said. "There are a few other names on the list. But he had a good result in the World Cup, and you should never forget a name."

Norway's Magnus Moan finished third overall and 16.2 second behind Hettich. Fourth-place finisher Petter Tande of Norway finished 16.3 seconds back.

American Bill Demong jumped into 19th place during the morning event, and he picked up four spots during the cross-country competition to finish in 15th.

Steamboat's Johnny Spil-lane continued to struggle Saturday with the effects of an early-season injury. His jumps put him in 20th place, but he slipped to 30th after the cross-country race.

"You know I haven't been in the best shape for jumping in a while," Spillane said. "But there are still more competitions left, and I have more confidence on the big hill than I do here. I've done four World Cups out of 15, so it's tough to expect too much."

The Nordic combined skiers will be back on the hill Wednesday for the team event. The 7.5-kilometer sprint event is Feb. 21.

Lodwick said he was happy with his fourth top-10 finish in the past two Olympics and said he thinks he'll be able to recover in time for Wednesday's team event.

"You know, if you're not on the podium, it doesn't really matter," Lodwick said. "There is not a lot of difference between fourth-place and 20th. They are all the same place -- not on the podium."

And after four Olympics and 13 years in the sport, he isn't going to allow his inability to win an Olympic medal cloud his amazing career.

"It's hard to put these moments out of your mind. It's something I want, but I don't think these races will define me as an athlete," Lodwick said.

U.S. Ski Team

Pragelato, Italy

Americans Alan Alborn and Clint Jones jumped well enough Saturday to qualify for today's Olympic normal hill individual event in Pragelato, Italy.

A two-time Olympian, Alborn qualified 31st but tied for 16th among Saturday's jumpers, soaring 96.5 meters on the normal hill.

"I'm working on some really basic things right now, getting closer and closer all the time," said Alborn, who trains in Steamboat Springs during his career. "It's really fundamental on the small hill. There's really no air pressure to fly on here, so it's all muscle memory, air awareness and speed sense."

Jones, who also jumped at the 2002 Olympics, qualified 49th with a jump of 91 meters. He was 35th among Saturday's competitors.

"That tailwind's a little funky to get used to," Jones said. "It wasn't as good a jump as I would have liked. Every jump I've taken, the conditions have been different, with the wind going different directions. This is the only event we ski all year on the small hill (normal hill), so it's tough." In jumping, an athlete is awarded points for distance and style (flight and landing). Points also can be deducted based on those factors. Five judges score each jump, with the highest and lowest scores disregarded. The remaining scores are aggregated and added to the jumper's distance points. Norway's Lars Bystoel was the leader in qualifying but was eliminated Saturday for violating suit regulations, putting Switzerland's Andreas Kuettel and Austria's Andreas Kofler at the head of the field for today's final. Both soared past 103 meters.

Fifty competitors will jump in today's finals, including 15 athletes who were pre-qualified. Steamboat's Tommy Schwall just missed making it, finishing 52nd with a jump of 90.5 meters.

Olympic rookie Jim Denney of Duluth, Minn., posted a jump of 86 meters and finished 46th.

After today's first jump, the field will be cut to 30 for a second and final jump.

"I'm going to jump harder, more coordinated and see where it puts me," Alborn said. "I'm looking for two good jumps. Sometimes, you have one really good one, and you think about it, and the next one isn't so good. What you need to do to get a medal is to be consistent."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report


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