Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs The last time Todd Lodwick raced on the Nordic Combined Continental Cup circuit, the skiing series just below the World Cup, the results were about as predictable as long ski lift lines on a morning with 10 inches of new snow.
Fresh off an Olympic silver medal and getting some live competition before he headed overseas to the World Cup, Lodwick mastered the races that weekend in 2010 in Steamboat Springs, proving himself a man among boys as he won both events by an average of 45 seconds.
So it may have been easy to make assumptions recently for anyone that caught the results from another weekend of Continental Cup action. Lodwick competed on that circuit again Friday, Saturday and Sunday at a trio of events in Utah, and of course, he dominated, winning handily every day against a field of up-and-coming competitors from across the world.
Todd being Todd? In a way, yes. His steely resolve and swift skiing lifted him above the competition, just as it's done throughout an unbelievable career that’s spanned decades and has included Olympic medals and World Championships.
In another way, however, this was something entirely different. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, competing far from the Olympic stage and even the World Cup, one of America’s greatest Nordic combined skier was racing for his career.
It’s not been the best of years for Lodwick, and 12 months of problems added up to a crucial weekend of racing thousands of miles from his sport’s spotlight. A painfully resilient illness — a battle with gluten intolerance that’s baffled doctors and restricted his training — kept Lodwick out of most of last season’s World Cup schedule. He didn’t compete after December, and when he did before, it wasn’t pretty as he failed to log a finish higher than 23rd.
His worldwide ranking slipped to the point that he wasn’t even assured a start at this season’s first World Cup. He did get that chance, but his frustrations continued with a 24th-place finish. When he didn’t earn a start in the next events, he returned to Steamboat.
After last season’s troubles, Lodwick questioned whether he even still wanted to continue with his career.
“I’m not the only athlete that’s struggled with when to call it good,” he said. “It’s not the easiest thing to do to just say ‘I’m done.’”
There was a very real chance the decision of whether or not he was done had been made for him.
Lodwick cited a lot of reasons for his troubles in the past year. The health aspect was huge, he said. He also pointed to a rule change that switched the type of jumping suits skiers were allowed to use, a shift he spent all summer and fall struggling to adjust to.
That wasn’t all, either.
“There were a lot of things in my life that needed attention,” he said. “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”
Still, he decided he wasn’t finished, that he still had something to give and despite his frustrations, his already long list of accomplishments and his fluctuating focus a year ago, he wasn’t ready to give up the career that’s always helped define him.
So he set out to Soldier Hallow, Utah, for a weekend of racing on the Continental Cup, which assures World Cup spots to its top three skiers.
The races typically are filled with young up-and-comers eager to kickstart their careers, but for Lodwick, the circuit that just two years ago was nothing but a warm-up suddenly was perhaps his last chance.
“I put all my eggs in one basket,” he said.
And he dominated. Competing against athletes as much as 20 years younger than him, the 36-year-old Lodwick proved he still has it. He said he switched up his jumping skis to an older pair he was more comfortable with and has learned to adjust to the new suits. He and his doctors have solved his gluten riddle, and he said he’s healthy.
He won one race by 38 seconds and two others by about 14. At a glance, he looked like the Todd Lodwick of five Olympic teams, of World Championships and of living Steamboat skiing lore.
Deep down, despite the horrible last year that threatened to end his career, he said he felt like that, too.
“I knew what I had to do, and I’m grateful and so relieved,” he said. “With the support of the team and all the people still believing in me, I accomplished that and I’m really proud.
“I came away with a lot of confidence that I still have the ability and I can still ski well and ski to victory. It felt really good to dominate everybody over there.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com