U.S. Gets Seventh in Nordic Combined. And That's a Good Thing

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It wasn't the Superglue that held his boot together after a nasty tumble on the ski jump. It wasn't the bloody face that resulted from that fall, nor the altitude, nor the wax on his cross country skis. Todd Lodwick, 25, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., doesn't blame anything or anyone for his seventh-place finish in Sunday's Nordic combined event. Actually, he's quite happy with it.

Lodwick's finish is the best result the U.S. has achieved in the sport's 78-year Olympic history. His teammates, Matt Dayton and Bill Demong, came 18th and 19th respectively. In Nagano, the best the U.S. managed in an individual Nordic combined event was 20th.

Lodwick — and the U.S. media — thought he had a decent chance of winning a medal, particularly considering his two podium finishes on this season's World Cup circuit and his strong showing in Saturday's ski-jump leg of the two-sport event. After breaking his boot during a training jump on Thursday, Lodwick decided he'd still prefer to compete with his familiar footwear. It was a good choice. Even in difficult wind conditions, he leaped into seventh place. Bill Demong, 21, of Vermontville, NY, took eighth.

But that finish would hurt Lodwick in the other half of Nordic combined, the cross-country skiing event. The best jumper gets to start skiing first, with the others following in order of how they placed in the ski-jump; first person to cross the finish line wins. That meant that Lodwick would begin his cross-country ski two minutes and fifteen seconds behind the leader. Lodwick, a strong skier, likened his chances of a medal to that of a football team that is two touchdowns behind in the final quarter.

The football analogy, and his seventh placing, seemed to inspire him. "John Elway [who wore number 7 while quarterbacking the Denver Broncos] has always come back in the fourth quarter and put out extraordinary finishes," he said. "We have a saying in Colorado, If anyone can do it, John Elway can do it.'" But even channeling Elway couldn't help Lodwick overcome a 2:15 handicap. Two of the top three jumpers, compatriots Samppa Lajunen and Jaako Tallus, skied to gold and silver medals in a double Finnish finish. And a tremendous ski leg catapulted Austrian Felix Gottwald from 11th place to the bronze. When Gottwald passed him in the second lap, Lodwick said, it took the wind out of his sails. His legs felt sluggish. And he was only able to hold on to seventh.

Still, that was in itself a victory. "Ten, 12 years ago none of the other nations really knew we were alive," said U.S. head coach Tom Steitz. "Now they are all afraid of USA Nordic combined." After poaching Norway's head coach, Jan-Erik Aalbu, to be the U.S. jumping coach, and injecting some much-needed money into its program, the U.S. is getting results. For 48 years, it won no medals on the Junior World Cup circuit. In the past seven years, it has pulled in five. This World Cup season, the U.S. was the only country to field two individual gold medal winners, Lodwick and Demong. So forget the catchphrase from Nike's much-maligned ad campaign launched after the Atlanta Games: "You don't win silver. You lose gold." Todd Lodwick, his teammates and coaches, are all winners at these Olympics.