Photo by John F. Russell
Members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team show off their silver medals at the Whistler Olympic Celebration Plaza. The team, which includes, from left, Brett Camerota, Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong, raced to second place in the team event.
Updated February 24, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.
Watching the race live
Hundreds of people gathered at One Steamboat Place on Tuesday to cheer on the U.S. Nordic combined team.
Whistler, British Columbia No longer the groomsmen, the bridesmaids or second cousins to the rest of the world, the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team continued to write its unwritten chapter.
Years of inability to compete with the rest of the world melted away, drifting behind the magnificent snowcapped mountains of Whistler, British Columbia. And hell didn’t even have to freeze over.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Nordic combined team finally won a team medal, in the process signifying an amazing and profound turnaround.
It won’t be publicized like Bode’s dominance or Lindsey’s story, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one.
Tuesday’s silver medal performance has to rank up there as a defining moment of these 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The Austrians won gold, finishing in 48 minutes and 55.6 seconds, just 5.2 seconds ahead of the Americans. The Germans won bronze, 19.5 seconds behind the Austrians.
Johnny Spillane paved the way Feb. 14 with a medal, the Americans’ first Olympic Nordic combined medal. On Tuesday, Todd Lodwick, Billy Demong and Brett Camerota made sure that road — much of which started on Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs and on the trails and jumps at Howelsen Hill — was simply silver. In turn, it erased any of the bad memories from team events in the past two games. The team finished seventh in 2006 and fourth in 2002 in the event.
“I came out of retirement for two reasons,” Lodwick said, surrounded by more than 30 reporters with snow falling freely. “One was to have a lot of fun, and two was to get some hardware. We were extremely successful at World Championships, and now we’ve been overly successful here.”
The Americans went into the 4x5-kilometer cross-country race just two seconds behind Finland, but by the first exchange, between Camerota and Lodwick, it became apparent it was going to be a two-team race, the Americans against the Austrians.
The two Nordic powerhouses battled back and forth, exchanging the lead multiple times. By the time Spillane got tagged in, the Americans had a small lead. Spillane tried to escape Austria’s Felix Gottwald near the 4.2-kilometer point of his race, but the snow was falling harder and harder, and it was apparent the Americans’ skis were a touch slower.
When Demong took his turn as the anchor, the United States trailed by 14.1 seconds. But Demong cut that down and battled with Austria’s Mario Stecher throughout. With less than a kilometer to go, it was either country’s to win. But when Stecher got to the stadium, the gold was Austria’s.
Watch the U.S. Nordic combined team, including Steamboat Springs' own Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, collect their silver medals Tuesday night in Vancouver during the medal ceremony.
Still, it’s two silvers in two events for the Americans, something that was unfathomable as recently as 20 years ago.
“We started this program basically 15 years ago,” U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt said, a Texas-size grin on his face. “What it really shows is the amount of effort, time and commitment to get athletes to this level. It’s a confirmation of everything we’ve done. Really it says a lot about these four kids. First of all, as people — the quality of person each one of them is individually. The tenacity and hard work they’ve put into this thing is awesome.”
All the Americans said after the jumping portion of the event, gold was in sight. But considering the effort and the snow that started falling when Camerota pushed out and that picked up to a frenzied pace by the time Demong took off, the Americans were happy to come away silver medalists Tuesday.
“We can hold our head up high,” said Spillane, now a two-time silver medalist. “We gave our best effort. We hoped to strive for the win and we were. Maybe it didn’t quite go as we wanted at the end, but we can’t complain. Every guy gave his best effort. It’s the first medal in the team event for the U.S.
“So, yeah, it was a good day.”