Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick soars Thursday during the Nordic combined team relay event at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The jump was the final competition jump for the six-time Winter Olympian.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick soars Thursday during the Nordic combined team relay event at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The jump was the final competition jump for the six-time Winter Olympian.

Americans struggle, finish sixth in team event

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— When interviewed Thursday, Todd Lodwick would begin speaking, then hesitate. He’d start again and then choke up.

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After 22 years in the sport of Nordic combined, often as America’s only real hope, the realization that Thursday’s large hill team event would be his last was setting in.

Lodwick and teammates Billy Demong, Taylor Fletcher and Bryan Fletcher skied to a sixth-place finish at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Norway took the gold, Germany the silver and Austria the bronze.

“For me, I took these Olympic Games in, probably more than any other Olympic Games,” Lodwick said. “I’m very fortunate to be here. To carry the flag at the opening ceremonies is humbling — to represent not only myself and the athletes, but everyone back home and what that flag really represents. If they said, ‘Would you crash again,’ I don’t think I’d change a thing.”

When the games began in Sochi, Lodwick was just six months removed from a crash that destroyed his shoulder.

After not doing the cross-country portion of either individual event, Lodwick competed for the first time in the cross-country Thursday.

Going second in the event, Lodwick gutted through the performance.

“He’s the one who broke down the barriers,” Demong said. “If Todd hadn’t started winning World Cups as an annoying 18-year-old, I don’t know where we’d be.”

It was a solemn, yet exciting day Thursday. There were tears and reflections on the careers of Lodwick and Demong. Lodwick said he’d retire after Thursday’s event, while Demong has hinted all week that this will be his last Olympics.

“Having won at the Olympics and being on the podium with teammates before, I know how close we really are,” Demong said. “I truly believe that we’ll be there again. I shared that with the Fletcher brothers and the younger generation. We’ve gotten the first one out of the way. Maybe it will be another Olympics, but I know we’ll get another one.”

With Demong and Lodwick leaving the sport, the future of Nordic combined could rest on the shoulders of the Fletcher brothers.

Like the rest of the American team, the Fletchers struggled on the jump hills.

It cost the team a chance at a medal Thursday as the Americans started the cross-country race 1 minute, 52 seconds behind the German team.

Bryan Fletcher went first, passed off to Lodwick then to Taylor Fletcher then to Demong.

“What those two have done is priceless,” Bryan Fletcher said. “It has given us confidence and the belief that we belong at the top level of the World Cup. They broke down that wall and barrier that prevented us from getting there. We believe Taylor and I will be champions. We’re putting the pieces together.”

Lodwick is flying home from Russia before the closing ceremony. Demong will continue on the World Cup circuit this year before re-evaluating next season.

The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi concluded the Olympic careers of two behemoths in the sport. The next American Nordic combined team will have a much different look.

But from what Demong and Lodwick achieved and the foundation they helped create, the passing of the torch to the Fletcher brothers has U.S. Nordic combined in a good place.

“Billy, Todd and Johnny (Spillane) — they’re gone. And, honestly, that sucks,” Taylor Fletcher said. “Without them, it’s hard to say (what will happen). We’ve shown over the years our team is capable of putting in hard work and getting results. I mean, it took them a decade to get those results. Hell, it may take us a decade, but we’ll get them.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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