Back-and-forth race ends in 2nd for Nordic team

Slower skis, Austrian power prevent US team from gold finish

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Breaking down the Nordic combined team cross-country relay

— The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s silver-medal performance Tuesday in the team event went a long way toward erasing bad memories from the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games. But by no means did Tuesday’s performance come easy for the Americans, who finished a mere 5.2 seconds behind the gold-medal winning Austrians. A closer look at the race tells the story.

Brett Camerota started the first leg down 2 seconds to Finland, which led after the jumping portion of the competition, and he had made up four seconds by the end of his 5-kilometer race, putting the Americans in first. But Bernhard Gruber, of Austria, was better. He started 32.8 seconds behind and put his team just 3.7 seconds back by the time he crossed the line.

It was clear by the second leg that it was going to be the Austrians vs. the Americans in a battle for gold. Steamboat’s Todd Lodwick put the United States in the lead in his first two splits. David Kreiner, of Austria, caught up, but Lodwick nonetheless passed off a lead to Johnny Spillane heading into the third leg of the race.

That’s when the heavy snow began. Spillane, the silver medalist from the Feb. 14 individual event, maintained the U.S. lead through his first 1.7 kilometers of his leg before Felix Gottwald, of Austria, took over.

And when Spillane reached the downhill just past the 4.2-kilometer mark, it was clear the Americans might not have had the right wax on their skis.

“I was behind Felix down there,” Spillane said. “He was tucked and relaxed. I was in his draft working my ass off. I’m not making excuses. We had four guys that had really good jumps and really good races. If you end up second, you end up second.”

Spillane had fallen 14.1 seconds off Gottwald’s pace by the time he tapped Billy Demong for the anchor leg, the snow falling even harder.

Demong attacked the course and Austrian skier Mario Stecher. By the 4.2-kilometer mark of Demong’s race, he had cut the Austrian’s lead to just six-tenths of a second. Demong said with his skis he knew he had to have a bigger lead on the final downhill section.

“I gave it a shot,” said Demong. “I felt really good on the hills, and Mario was a little bit better on the downhill. I knew I needed to be clear of Mario before that last downhill. Realistically, I think I needed to really seal it on the last climb and get a good four or five seconds.”

Stecher passed Demong on the final turn into the finish area and turned on the gas. Demong fell behind and simply couldn’t close the gap. But he crossed the finish line in second, comfortably ahead of the third-place Germans.

The Americans, who have now won two medals in the first two Nordic events after never having won an Olympic medal before, will try to make it 3-for-3 in Nordic combined events Thursday in the Large Hill Individual Gundersen event. That event begins at 11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

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