Steamboat to Sochi: Nordic combined team aims to build on success
February 2, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Maybe it's simply impossible for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team to improve on its last Olympic performance.
The team scored silver medals in the relay that year, then an individual gold and two more individual silvers, a dominating performance made all the sweeter by the fact that it was truly a breakthrough, the first Olympics in which the team had won any hardware.
That's hard to top, and instead of topping it, the four members of this Olympiad's team are hoping to build upon it.
Back are two of the men who helped win those medals, one more experienced Olympian and a rookie to the Winter Games who perhaps has been more successful in the years since than any of the rest of the team.
Billy Demong, the 2010 gold medal winner in the large hill competition, returns for his fifth Olympics. He's joined by Steamboat Springs brothers Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher as well as Nordic combined stalwart Todd Lodwick, who hopes to recover from injury in time to compete in his U.S.-record sixth Winter Olympics.
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For the team, it's about building, not just on 2010's Olympic medal haul but last season's World Championships, as well.
There, the same foursome ganged up to earn bronze in the team relay event.
Two things may stand in their way.
The first is jumping, a segment of the sport that has held the team back so far this season in World Cup competitions.
"Jumping is a fickle thing," U.S. Ski Team coach Dave Jarrett said. "You can lose the feeling really quickly, but you can also regain the feeling just as quickly and easily."
He said a new coach and a step back from a failed experiment in style have helped yield results, and that began to show up in the most recent World Cup events, especially for Demong and Bryan Fletcher, the athlete Jarrett tabbed as the team's most consistent throughout the past four years.
"It's hard to put your finger on one exact thing, but we've answered a lot of questions we had last year," Jarrett said.
The other big factor for the team will be Lodwick's health. He dislocated his shoulder and sustained several fractured bones during an early January crash on a jump at a World Cup competition in France. He immediately flew back to the United States and has been doing everything possible to rehab in time to contribute to the team.
His target is the Feb. 20 team relay event, where the team won silver in 2010 and bronze at the World Championships a year ago. Lodwick will miss the two individual events leading up to that relay.
"We are hoping he will be able to recover in time and contribute to the team," Jarrett said. "It was a tough decision with the injury, but we feel that if anyone can recover from his injury, Todd can do it, so we're putting our faith in that and looking to maximize his recovery in every way possible."
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