Steamboat Springs’ Johnny Spillane trains on the cross-country course during the weekend in a training session at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs’ Johnny Spillane trains on the cross-country course during the weekend in a training session at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia.

Nordic combined team competes in team event today

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NBC Channel 9 scheduling indicates the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined team event will air sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. today. The cross-country portion will be shown between 7 and 11 p.m. Visit www.steamboatpilot.com for live updates throughout the day.

— Ten days ago, the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team made history as Steamboat Springs’ Johnny Spill­ane raced to America’s first medal in the sport.

But that’s old news.

For the past week, the team has been busy preparing for the Nordic combined team event. The team’s veteran core, which includes Spill­­ane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong, will take to the start bar today not only hoping for another medal, but expecting it.

“It’s a big difference be­­tween being medal hopefuls and being a medal contender,” said Spillane, the Olympic silver medalist. “When you are a hopeful, that means you are hoping that something is going to happen, so that you can win a medal. We are not hoping for anything. The only thing we need to do is our best, and the results will come, or we will be in a damn good position.”

Teams of four skiers will combine their efforts in the Nordic combined team event, which is scheduled to begin with the trial round at 10:30 a.m. MST today followed by the only competitive jump at 11:30 a.m. MST. The team relay begins at 3 p.m. MST. The Steamboat Pilot & Today will provide updated coverage throughout the day at www.steamboatpilot.com and on its Twitter accounts, StmbtOlympics and Steamboatpilot.

Each athlete on the team will get one jump, and the combined score of all four jumpers will determine the team’s starting position in a 20-kilometer relay cross-country race. Each skier will take turns completing a 5-kilometer leg of the race. The first team to cross the finish line will be crowned the winner. The U.S. team went 2-4-6 in the Feb. 14 normal hill competition, making the team an early favorite, but head coach Dave Jarrett said it’s tough to compare the two events.

The last Nordic combined event was on the normal hill, and this one will be on the large hill. The skiers also may take a different approach to the cross-country race because each skier is responsible only for 5 kilometers compared to 10 kilometers in the individual events.

“The keys in the team event for our team is that our big three have to be not only our best guys, but they need to be where they have been all season. They need to continue to do what they are capable of doing,” Jarrett said. “The fourth guy, most likely Brett (Camerota), will need to be solid on the hill and have a solid race. Our success does not depend entirely on him but on the collective strength of the team.”

The medals in the team event, which now features just one round of jumping instead of two, are up for grabs with as many as six teams having a realistic shot at the podium.

Japan was the surprise gold medal winner at the 2009 World Championship in Liberec, Czech Republic, but Germany and Austria, who won the 2006 Olympic gold medal, also should figure into the race. The American team did not compete in the team event at the 2009 World Championships after being disqualified when Billy Demong arrived at the starting bar without his bib. Germany was second at the 2009 World Championships and won the only World Cup team event this season in January.

In the normal hill individual event, the Americans put three skiers in the top six and had more skiers in the top 10 than any other nation. Spillane was leading the pack at the 5-kilometer mark of the 10-kilometer race, followed by Lodwick who was 0.2 seconds behind his teammate. Demong, who struggled on the jump hill, was just 10 seconds off the winning pace, and the team’s likely fourth skier, Camerota was 51 seconds back.

Of course, it’s hard to compare the two events, and each team’s fate will be determined by the collective efforts of all four skiers.

“Everybody is going to have to jump their best and ski their best because there are a lot of good teams out there,” Spillane said. “The nice thing is that we don’t have to do anything special. … Nobody has to perform any miracles, so that’s the good part. We have not had that situation in the past.”

Lodwick agrees with his teammate, and after spending a few days training in Park City, Utah, he seems to have shaken off his fourth-place finish in the first event and is focused on his ultimate goal of winning a medal.

“I carry confidence over (from the normal hill event). Knowing that I didn’t jump very well (in the normal hill) training and was searching for something, searching for feeling. I finally found it two jumps before the one that counted, and I’m psyched that I still have that feeling,” Lodwick said. “I know clearly what I need to do on the hill, and that’s a big plus for me.”

The 33-year-old said it took a couple of days to get over the disappointment of just missing a medal he’s been chasing since he joined the team at 16, but he thinks it will make him even stronger in the team event.

“Seven-tenths of a second is nothing,” Lodwick said. “That one was hard to swallow. You train so hard and so long for something to come up a ski length short in the biggest event of your life, in fourth. … I gave everything I had on the cross-country course and that meant that my best performance on that day was fourth. I’m happy with that — I’m not satisfied — but I’m happy. We have two events coming up, and I want a medal.”

The athletes in today’s event will not be racing for individual glory, but the team Olympic medals are still just as special.

“The team event can inspire performances that an individual has never done on an individual basis,” Jarrett said.  “It is truly a chance for someone to race for his teammates.”

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