Nordic team not satisfied

Group sets sights on 2010 Olympics in Vancouver

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Joe Klamar/AFP

Todd Lodwick, left, celebrates his victory with teammate Bill Demong after the 10K individual Gundersen event of the Nordic skiing world championships in February 2009 in Liberec, Czech Republic. Lodwick won the race ahead of Jan Schmid, of Norway. Demong took the bronze.

— They've all been there before, laden with expectations to do something no American has done.

Each time, however, something has happened to the U.S. Nordic combined team at the Olympic Games.

Whether it was unfortunate circumstances or equipment problems, America has never won a Nordic combined medal on the sport's biggest stage.

But fresh off an eye-opening performance at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, the expectations that always have followed the U.S. skiers are more real than they've ever been.

The U.S. won three golds and a bronze last month, winning a medal in every individual event in which team members competed.

"I hope we're just relaxed and treat it just like every other competition," said Chris Gilbertson, the team's jumping coach. "I had a lot of comments from a lot of other teams about how relaxed we were. That's easy to do when you're winning. But I would hope it continues."

Although Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick - who combined to win all four of those medals in Liberec - called the World Championships "a perfect storm," it's hard not to like what the U.S. will put forward in less than 11 months at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The team will enter the games with three world champions. In addition to Demong and Lodwick, Steamboat's Johnny Spillane won a world championship in 2003.

Add in a team that's never been more focused, and expectations aren't tempered for the Olympics.

"The team has matured enough to where they're capable of handling those expectations," said Lodwick, who made his comeback this season after retiring in 2006. "Now we have those expectations - we have those results. Results ooze confidence. If you don't have confidence in competition, you're really behind the eight ball."

'A different me'

Lodwick's story alone is amazing.

The lifelong Steamboat Springs resident made a remarkably impressive comeback for a top-level athlete.

After announcing his return in May, Lodwick finished second in his first World Cup. He continued his hot streak with two wins at the World Championships.

"I give a lot of credit to (head coach) Dave (Jarrett) in saying, 'This is your career, not my career. It's your choice to do well,'" Lodwick said. "I really took that to heart. I think with the team, they saw a different me. I've never had more fun throughout the season."

Although a little guarded about what the expectations are for the upcoming Olympics, Demong said the team firmly thinks it can come away from Vancouver with the hardware it always has sought.

He said it would be an injustice if the team didn't expect to at least do well.

"Just because you win them all once doesn't mean you'll win them all in the future," Demong said. "It's about staying relaxed and doing what you can. Some days you'll have the best competition of your life and you'll be third or fourth. But it's shooting for three, for sure."

A driving force for the U.S. team continues to be winning a medal in the team event. Primed to do so in Liberec, Demong was disqualified after losing his bib before his first jump.

"The team event debacle was a disaster for me," said Demong, noting the mishap propelled him to a win in the next individual event. "With the help from these guys, I was able to get over it."

The key for the U.S. team might be finding the fourth skier to complement Demong, Lodwick and Spillane.

Right now, it's a three-person race for the final position, with Bryan Fletcher, Brett Camerota and Eric Camerota doing the fighting.

Still, after the performance in Liberec and the momentum the U.S. team has in its favor, it's tough to see them not making gains - finally - on the sport's biggest stage.

"Regardless of the debacle in the team event, we were the best team at the World Championships," Lodwick said. "Everyone was afraid of us. They were afraid. There was - like Bill said - it was a perfect storm. : Winning World Cups is great, but you're remembered by your world championship victories, world championship medals and Olympic medals. It's a kid's dream."

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