Understanding Steamboat’s Nordic combined history
2010 Olympic success raises profile of city's signature sport
December 31, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The events of the 2010 Winter Olympics played out like a Hollywood movie for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, and the community of Steamboat Springs was seated in the front row.
"I couldn't have written a script any better," Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett said. "Well, maybe if Todd (Lodwick) could have earned an individual medal, but that's being a little greedy."
Steamboat's own Johnny Spillane won silver medals in all three of the Nordic combined events at Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia, the normal hill, large hill and team event.
Lodwick, who also was raised in Steamboat, brought home a silver in the team event, and Billy Demong, a New York native who trained and lived in Steamboat, brought home the gold medal in the large hill individual Gundersen event.
Spillane, Lodwick and Demong were awarded silver medals in the team event along with Brett Camerota, of Park City, Utah.
No town in America showed more pride than Steamboat where people have a firm grasp on a sport that is poorly understood in the rest of the country and take pride in producing Olympic athletes.
"Forever more, Nordic combined will be a part of the fabric of Steamboat Springs," said Tom Steitz, who coached the team from 1988 to 2002.
But Steamboat's connection to Nordic combined, which combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing, stretches further than the Olympics in Vancouver.
The sport was one of the first Olympic sports. It was introduced in Chamonix, France, in 1924. There were three Nordic combined events at the 2010 Olympics.
In the normal hill individual Gundersen and the large hill individual Gundersen events, the athletes take one competition jump. The distance jumped is used to determine the start order of a 10-kilometer cross-county race later the same day. The winner of the jumping competition leads the field in the cross-country race, with the Gundersen handicap system used to translate distance into a handicapped start for the cross-country race.
The athlete who crosses the finish line first in the cross-country race wins the entire event. The only difference between the normal and large hill events is the size of the ski jump.
The team events combine the efforts of four team members on the jump hill. A similar system is used to translate results on the jump hill into the start order of the cross-country race. In the team event, each athlete skis a 5-kilometer leg of a 20-kilometer cross-county race.
The events are unfamiliar in most of the United States, but that's not the case in Steamboat.
"I think it's fair to say that Nordic combined is to Steamboat what football is to Texas," Steitz said. "It hasn't always been that way, but this community has opened its arms to Nordic combined."
Steamboat has hosted Nordic combined World Cup and Continental Cup competitions at Howelsen Hill since 1994. In December, Steamboat invited some of the top skiers in the world to a pair of the Continental Cup events. Lodwick won both.
Kerry Lynch, a former member of the U.S. team and a coach at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said the town's love of the sport is unmatched.
He said the reason Steamboat has become a magnet for top athletes has to do with the strong programs at the Winter Sports Club, the facilities at Howelsen Hill and the young skiers who have been drawn to the sport hoping to follow in the footsteps of stars such as Spillane, Lodwick and Demong.
"The young athletes in our town train with these top athletes, they watched them compete, and they see that winning medals at the Olympics is possible," Lynch said.
Jarrett said this season has been a bit more relaxed than 2010's. Spillane has been on the sideline with a knee injury, and veteran Demong has seen limited action this winter. Demong and his new wife, Katie, are expecting their first child in January.
Jarrett said the absence of some of the team's top stars, however, hasn't been a bad thing. It has allowed future stars such as Bryan Fletcher to make more regular World Cup starts and to gain the experience needed to be successful on the World Cup. He has responded with top results, including an 18th place in Kuusamo, Finland, and a career-best eighth at Ramsau, Austria.
Jarrett said it's the first time an American outside of Demong, Lodwick and Spillane has finished in the top 10 since 2002.
"Before this season, I would say that Billy, Todd and Johnny were getting about 75 percent of the World Cup starts," Jarrett said. "That's been a little different this year, and I think that is a good thing for the team."
The team is off for the holidays but will return for the second period of the World Cup with competitions in Schonach, Germany (Jan. 8 and 9); Seefield, Austria (Jan. 15 and 16); and Chaux-Neuve, France (Jan. 22 and 23). Bryan and Taylor Fletcher are expected to make the trip along with Eric Camerota. Lodwick will join the team in Seefeld and Chaux-Neuve, and Spillane's return is planned for Chaux-Neuve. However, Jarrett said Spillane might return for the World Cup in Seefeld if he is ready.