Steamboat Springs The golden trees lining Strawberry Park hillsides last week served as a reminder for Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick as he continued to train for his return to the world stage.
Lodwick hopes to see Olympic gold in 2010.
The four-time Olympian from Steamboat Springs retired after the 2005-06 season, but last spring announced his intent to return and pursue the Olympic medal that has eluded him.
On Thursday, he took a few minutes away from a roller-skiing session to chat about his efforts to return to international competition.
Things "are going great. The Norway trip was a reminder that I'm doing the right thing," Lodwick said.
Lodwick was part of a large group of American Nordic combined skiers and coaches that traveled to Norway at the end of August to train with members of the Norwegian and French teams.
America's top athletes - including Lodwick, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane - all looked strong, leaving American coaches excited about the upcoming season.
Lodwick's hopes of a successful return were bolstered after he won a cross-country portion of a sprint event that included several top World Cup-level competitors.
"Todd's been awesome," U.S. Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett said. "He's been a great teammate to Billy (Demong) and Johnny (Spillane). He brings a lot to the table."
Lodwick feels like he can make an impact this season, and his results during the camp in Norway show that he is on the right track.
"I've never asked for a free pass," Lodwick said. "I've been working really hard, and I want to earn my place with this team."
Among the goals he hopes to reach are a return to the top level of the World Cup, a shot at this February's FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and another shot at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Winning the cross-country event in Lillehammer was a big boost for my confidence," Lodwick said of the August training session. "The event had a lot of top World Cup skiers, and I don't feel like I'm that far off the pace."
He said the cross-country events have been fun and easy but admits he still is working to improve his jumping.
"I've only had 120 jumps since I returned," Lodwick said. "It's there, but it's going to take some time to get back to where I was before I retired."
Jarrett agrees and is urging Lodwick to take things slowly while concentrating on reaching his long-term goals, including World Championships and the 2010 Olympics.
"Todd's jumping has been a little inconsistent," Jarrett said. "But we need to be patient, and we have to remember that he's been away for nearly two years. We don't need him to be on top of his game in December or January. We want him this February."
Lodwick says the hardest part of the comeback attempt has nothing to do with ski jumping, cross-county skiing or competitors from Germany or Austria.
"The biggest challenge has been raising money to pay for this stuff," Lodwick said.
Because he is not an official member of the U.S. Team, Lodwick has been forced to find outside funding to pay for travel, living and other expenses.
Jarrett is hoping to keep Lodwick close to home, at least for the first period of the Nordic combined World Cup season. He expects Lodwick to compete in Continental Cup events in Steamboat Springs; Park City, Utah; and at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Park. If things go well, the Steamboat Springs' Olympian could be back on the World Cup circuit by the second period of the season.
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