Steamboat Springs Todd Lodwick admitted earlier in the week that he'd be nervous in his return to World Cup competition after a three-year retirement.
But Lodwick, who announced his return to competition in May, looked as strong as ever Saturday in Oberhof, Germany, finishing second behind Norway's Magnus Moan.
"Let's just say, it was a fairytale. It's hard not to be happy. This has been a long road back in a short amount of time. I have never trained so hard in my entire career to come back," Lodwick said in a U.S. Ski Team release. "My expectations were to come in here and be top 15, and this is a huge leap forward. I wouldn't say I didn't think it was possible, but I definitely didn't expect it."
Lodwick finished fifth in jumping and third in cross-country. After last competing in a World Cup in March 2006, Lodwick was just three-tenths of a point from winning the competition.
"It's definitely surprising. I think it has to be surprising to Todd," said former U.S. Nordic coach Tom Steitz, who first heard the news early Saturday from the German announcers who couldn't believe Lodwick had done that well. "I know he's surprised. I think I'm not that surprised, but I didn't think it would happen this quick."
Steitz said Lodwick has always been comfortable in Oberhof and with the top finish expects Lodwick to continue putting up good results.
"One thing this gives him is a huge amount of confidence to know he can come back," Steitz said. "It validated or vindicated his decision and all the effort that he put into it. I think what it means to him, if nothing else and it all ended today, it would be a success."
Fellow American Bill Demong finished fifth. Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane was on track for a top-10 finish before being disqualified in the cross-country race for not wearing transponders, which are timing devices athletes are required to wear.
"Conditions were a little bit back and forth, but it was a pretty decent competition," Demong said in the release. "There's always a little bit of luck involved. Last weekend, I was on the right side of it. This weekend, I wouldn't say I was on the wrong side of it, but I could have had a little better conditions. Regardless, it was a good day, and I was satisfied with my jump, and we skied a really good race."
Still, the story Saturday was Lodwick and his stunning return to the World Cup spotlight.
"Todd's comeback is real. He had a great jump, which put him in a good position, and then he skied a great race," Nordic combined coach Chris Gilbertson said in the release. "He was one of the top athletes before he left and then he came back. Did we expect a second place in his first World Cup back? No. I'd be lying if I said we did, but we knew his level was right up there."
The competition continues today.