Thursday, February 16, 2006
Headed into the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, the biggest question about the U.S. Nordic Combined team was how competitive it could be in the team event.
On Thursday, that question was answered, and it wasn't the response many hoped for.
The Americans struggled through a wind-marred jumping portion that was continued Thursday after being postponed Wednesday. The U.S. team then failed to make up any ground in the four-person, 20-kilometer relay event. The team of Todd Lodwick, Carl Van Loan, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane finished seventh in the field of nine teams. Lodwick and Spillane are Steamboat Springs natives.
"It was just a rough day," Van Loan said when it was all over. "It wasn't going for us on the jump hill -- especially for me. But in the skiing (portion), I gave it everything, and I can walk away saying I laid it all out there in the cross country."
Unfortunately, what the Americans left on the course was not enough to keep pace with Nordic combined powerhouses such as Austria, Germany, Finland and Japan.
The Germans led the jumping portion of the competition thanks to strong performances by Georg Hettich, who had jumps of 130.5 and 126 meters. Bjoern Kircheisen turned in jumps of 126 and 125.5 meters, and Ronny Ackermann jumped 126 and 122 meters.
But the German team gambled in the 20-kilometer cross-country relay by leading off with Kircheisen, Hettich and Ackermann and leaving Jens Gaiser, who is a better jumper than skier, to take the final lap.
The Austrians took advantage of the German rotation, and Felix Gottwald caught up with the German team at the end of the third leg of the relay. Austrian Mario Stecher stalked Gaiser during the final leg and waited for the best place to make his move.
It came on the final uphill into the stadium. Stecher moved past Gaiser and led the Austrians to their first-ever gold medal in the Nordic combined team event. The Germans won silver, finishing 15.3 seconds behind Austria. Finland held off the Japanese team to take the bronze.
The American team was seventh after the jumping event and wasn't able to improve its standing during the cross-country relay race. Spillane and Demong posted the fourth fastest cross-county times in their legs, and Lodwick was second. Van Loan was ranked seventh.
The U.S. team came off the course frustrated with the event organizers for not wiping the slate clean and starting the entire team competition over after high winds forced a postponement of the jumping event Wednesday.
"We should have done it to the full extent," Van Loan said. "We had maybe a hundred people out there today. Who wants to come out at 8 a.m. on a rainy, wet day?"
Spillane had one of his best jumps before the event was stopped Wednesday, but he faced unfavorable conditions in his second jump.
"They tried to force a competition at the Olympics," Spillane said. "The conditions were not fair. It's disappointing because we have time to have a fair competition, but they are just trying to get it out of the way."
Lodwick had hoped his teammates could put the jumping behind them and make up ground on the cross-country course. But by the end of the day, the Americans' bid to make up time had come to an end with six other teams, including Japan, France, and Switzerland finishing in front of them.
"I didn't want to kill myself," Lodwick said about his leg of the cross-country race. "I wanted to get a good idea of what to expect in the 7.5-kilometer cross-country race. I believe that we should have been fighting for fourth and fifth.