U.S. nordic team grabs silver | ParkRecord.com

U.S. nordic team grabs silver

Matthew Piper

WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK, British Columbia The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team continued its march into history at these Winter Olympic Games, winning silver for its first-ever medal in the team relay on Tuesday. Anchor leg Billy Demong, who lives in Park City, held the lead with little more than a kilometer to go, but Austria’s Mario Stecher out-sprinted him to victory.

"This is the greatest moment in nordic combined history for the USA," said Todd Lodwick. "All three of us are psyched to be here. We’re psyched to be here as a team. We’ve persevered over the last 10 years to get to this point. We feel like we’ve earned this silver medal and this spot in history."

In nordic combined, athletes are scored for their performances in both ski jumping and cross-country skiing. In the gundersen scoring system, an athlete’s (or team’s) result in the jumping round determines the starting position in the cross-country round.

The USA set itself up for the medal push with a sensational showing on the jump hill, with all four U.S. skiers pushing out to the bottom of the hill, led by Lodwick with a jump of 136.5 meters. As a result, the U.S. team started the cross-country relay in second place, just two seconds behind Finland and 34 seconds ahead of third-place Austria.

They opened the relay with Brett Camerota of Park City, whose job was to stay with the Finn. Camerota did more, taking the lead coming into the stadium after his 5K stint. In the second leg, Lodwick maintained the lead through the first half of the race, but faced a formidable challenge from Austria’s David Kreiner.

In the third relay leg, individual (normal hill) Olympic silver medalist Johnny Spillane battled back and forth with Austrian Felix Gottwald. The two built a cushion over the rest of the field, but Spillane was left behind as Gottwald sprinted past him in the last kilometer and built a 14-second lead for Demong to attack on his anchor leg.

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Demong was up to the challenge. Last year’s large-hill world champion in Liberec, Czech Republic, he charged intently after Stecher and passed him on a climb midway through the 5K course.

Falling snow began to accumulate, however, and Stecher’s lighter skis better suited the conditions. Stecher took advantage of his superior descending ability to reclaim the lead late, withstanding Demong’s final push at the finish.

"It’s always a benefit to draft a little bit, but today I definitely knew I needed to be clear of Mario before we got into that final downhill to have a chance," Demong said. "I was going up that last hill really hard like ‘I think maybe I’m getting away,’ and then I hit him with my pole right toward the top, I felt him back there and I was like, ‘Nope, he’s still there.’"

It was the second Olympic medal for the U.S. Nordic Combined Team, both coming in these Olympics. Lodwick, Spillane and Demong also competed together to take fourth in Salt Lake and seventh in Torino.

"I think we’re really happy with whatever," Demong said. "For sure, we did a really good job today. We knew that gold was possible. I knew it, on the last lap, it was what my goal was, but as a team and as a whole I think we’re really satisfied with the show we did today."

"I came out of retirement for two reasons," Lodwick said. "One, to have a lot of fun, and two, to get some hardware. I was hugely successful at World Championships, and now have been over successful here, so it’s great."

Spillane said he was more than pleased by his second silver, too, even if it could have easily been gold.

"I had a good race, and you can hold your head up high when you gave it your best effort," he said. "We were hoping to be fighting for the win and we were. Maybe it didn’t quite go as we wanted at the end, but you can’t complain at all. Every single guy gave 100 percent effort.

Official Results 2010 Winter Olympic Games Whistler Olympic Park Feb. 23 Nordic Combined Team 4x5K Relay Gold Austria (3, 1), 49:31.6 Silver United States (2, 4), +5.2 Bronze Germany (6, 2), +19.5 4. France (5, 3), +39.8 5. Norway (7, 5), +54.3