Steamboat Springs The World Cup Nordic combined season still is more than a month away, but that didn't stop American Johnny Spillane from recording his first big accomplishment of the 2008-09 winter.
On Saturday, the Steamboat Springs skier slipped past teammate Billy Demong in the cross-country portion of the 2009 U.S. Nordic Combined Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., to win the first combined title of his career. Spillane has won special jumping titles in the past, but he has never claimed the Nordic combined crown.
"It was pretty spirited," Spillane said of the title race. "Everybody is trying to get ready for the season, and we've all been working really hard this summer."
This is the first time the U.S. Ski Team has held the ski jumping and Nordic combined championships in October using plastic jumps and roller skis. The idea was to schedule the event at a time when all of the team's top athletes could compete, and at a time when they were not sandwiched between World Cup events or pushed to the end of the season.
"I like it," Spillane said of the timing of the event. "I think everybody was fresh and it made the whole event more competitive."
Spillane finished second in the jumping portion of Saturday's event among Nordic combined skiers. He actually recorded the longest jump, but a rough landing cost him style points and dropped him behind special jumping winner Anders Johnson and crowd favorite Demong.
Demong is from Vermontville, N.Y., but spent several years living and training in Steamboat Springs.
"I was hoping to win for sure, with the hometown crowd, but it was good to see Johnny take his first national title, as well. In all it was a good day," Demong was quoted as saying in a U.S. Ski Team news release.
Steamboat Springs athletes, or those like Demong with ties to the Yampa Valley, dominated the top of the Nordic combined results at this year's nationals.
Other top finishers included Todd Lodwick, who placed third. Lodwick retired following the 2006 season but returned this summer and is hoping to make a comeback. Steamboat's Bryan Fletcher was fourth, Taylor Fletcher was ninth and Brett Denney placed 10th.
Johnson, of Park City, Utah, earned the special jumping title with 268.5 points. Spillane was second in that race at 261.5, and Demong was third at 251.
Lindsey Van topped the women's field with 251 points. She was followed by fellow Park City jumpers Jessica Jerome (237.5) in second and Alissa Johnson (226) in third.
The Nordic combined team planned to stay in Lake Placid for a cross-country skiing camp and will return to World Cup competition Nov. 29 in Kuusamo, Finland. The special jumpers also will continue to train and are expected to return to competition in December.
-To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail email@example.com