U.S. finishes fourth in team event at Nordic World Championships
Steamboat Springs — The U.S. Nordic Combined squad was denied its ambitions for a World Championship medal in a team relay event in Oslo, Norway, on Monday after giving its competitors too great a head start in the cross-country ski race.
The Americans placed no higher than fifth in the ski jumping and started the race 1:08 behind the leaders. At the finish line, they were 14 seconds away from bronze-medal position.
“It was a good day but not quite good enough,” Head Coach Dave Jarrett said in a U.S. Ski Team news release. “In the end, we came up short. But it’s still good and something to be proud of. … You have to take your hats off to the top three teams. They were better and we have to keep working hard and we know the results will be there.”
The Austrian team edged out Germany in a sprint to the finish for the gold medal. Norway held off the Americans to claim the final podium spot.
The foursome of Billy Demong, Bryan Fletcher, Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick posted the second-fastest cross-country time of the day in the 4-by-5-kilometer relay, but that wasn’t enough to close the gap and take a bronze medal away from the host Norwegian team.
The American skiers, based on their performances in the individual competition Saturday, knew they were among the fastest on the cross-country track.
Demong had turned in the fastest time that day, and Jarrett sent him out first Monday to see if he could put his teammates in contention after the first lap.
“We talked after the jumping and obviously we had a little bit of time to make up,” Demong said. “So we kind of frontloaded,” knowing that Lodwick “is good at finishing.”
The strategy paid early dividends as Demong cut the margin down to 29.6 seconds behind Germany. Fletcher took the pass and went up against Austrian veteran Bernhard Gruber.
Fletcher kept up with Gruber and together they closed the gap on France, which already had fallen from first to third.
“I went out and the pace felt pretty easy and I (thought) I could put in some effort to reel in France,” Fletcher said in the release. “Then Gruber just took off like an animal and I just didn’t have it.”
Spillane moved past the French team on the third leg of the relay, but Austrian Felix Gottwald opened up a bigger gap for his countrymen, and although Lodwick turned in the fastest anchor leg of the day, he ran out of room at the finish line before he could overtake Magnus Moan, of Norway.
The American veterans who reaped a bonanza of Olympic medals in British Columbia a year ago were philosophical with two more events remaining in the World Championships.
“I think everyone can be satisfied with what they did today,” Spillane said. “It wasn’t as good as what we’re capable of, but overall, it was a pretty good day. Fourth place is always a little bit tough, but everybody did a good job.”
Demong had specific praise for Fletcher.
“The impressive thing today is that we jumped better as a team. And Bryan just went for it. He led the Austrian who just took him at the end of the (lap). We’re growing the depth of our team.”
The Nordic combined skiers will be back on course and pursuing individual medals in the large-hill competition Wednesday. The large-hill team competition is scheduled for Friday.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com
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