Pragelato, Italy Less than 24 hours before the start of the Nordic combined team event, the American team appeared relaxed and carefree.
But you can bet the nerves arrived before dawn this morning.
"When I was younger, I would wake up 15 times the night before an event," Steam--boat's Johnny Spillane said Tuesday. "But I think it's a little bit of a comfort level, too. I'm comfortable with how I'm skiing and how we are doing right now. But I'm definitely really excited about tomorrow, and it will probably be hard to get to sleep tonight."
Spillane will join teammates Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong and Carl Van Loan in today's team event. The jumping will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon (2:30 to 4 a.m. MST) in Pragelato. The team will move just down the road to Pragelato Plan for the 4-by-5-kilometer cross-country race, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. (9 a.m. MST).
Although most of America's hopes for a Nordic combined medal have been riding on the shoulders of veteran Todd Lodwick, team members think they have a realistic shot at winning a medal in the team event.
"I think we are all in a better place than we were four years ago in Salt Lake City," Demong said. "That is half the battle. We've never medaled before, and I hope we do, but I'm not going to go crazy if we don't. The biggest goal is to be in there and fight, and that will be the fun part, anyway."
The U.S.'s best finish in the team event came four years ago, when Lodwick, Demong, Spillane and Matt Dayton came within a heartbeat of winning a medal and finished in fourth place.
Even with three returning members, the expectations are not quite as high this time around. Spillane has been injured, and the team hasn't been jumping as well as a group.
But team members feel that with a solid jumping performance and a repeat of Saturday's individual cross-country race, they will be in the hunt. Spillane insists that he is better in short distances and thinks he will do well during his 5-kilometer leg. The team members insist that if they go out and ski to their potential, they will be close at the finish.
"Every jump I've had has been getting better since I left the United States. ... I'm in a position now where I can really help the team and be a pretty valuable member. I feel like if we can all step it up a little bit, we could be in good shape tomorrow," Spillane said.
All four members will get two jumps for the jumping portion of today's event. The jump results will dictate their position in the 4-by-5-kilometer cross-country race tonight.
Favorites to medal in the event include Austria, Germany, Finland and Norway.
"Tonight's a tough one with all that anticipation," Demong said. "It's kind of hard to fall asleep, and you get a little jittery, but I guess we are all mature enough now and have been through this enough. Hopefully, we will be able to relax, get off our legs and take those last final steps to have 100 percent effort (today)."
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org