U.S. Nordic squad readies for new season | SteamboatToday.com

U.S. Nordic squad readies for new season

Todd Lodwick

2010-11 Nordic combined World Cup schedule

Nov. 26 to 28 Kuusamo, Finland

Dec. 4 and 5 Lillehammer, Norway

Dec. 11 and 12 Harrachov, Czech Republic

Dec. 29 Oberstdorf, Germany

Jan. 1 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Jan. 3 Innsbruck, Austria

Jan. 6 Bischofshofen, Austria

Jan. 8 and 9 Schonach, Germany

Jan. 8 and 9 Harrachov, Czech Republic*

Jan. 15 and 16 Seefeld, Austria

Jan. 21 and 22 Zakopane, Poland

Jan. 22 and 23 Chaux-Neuve, France

Jan. 29 and 30 Willingen, Germany

Feb. 5 and 6 Oberstdorf, Germany

Feb. 12 and 13 Vikersund, Norway

Feb. 25 to March 5 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, Oslo, Norway

* The International Ski Federation lists this event for Jan. 22 and 23.

Taylor Flet­cher

— The secret is out.

The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team won’t sneak up on anyone this year.

Fresh off banner performances at the 2009 World Championships and 2010 Olympics, the Nordic combined team opens its season Friday in Kuusamo, Finland, as one of the top teams in the world.

But even with a silver medal in the team event and three individual medals at the Olympics, the U.S. still enters the 2010-11 season with some intriguing questions.

Stalwarts Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane will miss at least the first part of the World Cup season. Lodwick is staying in the States to be with family and refocus, and Spillane is recovering from a knee injury.

In their place, several young skiers will have a chance to compete, impress and make their cases for inclusion on the World Championship team.

The World Championships begin Feb. 25 in Oslo, Norway.

“The summer has been somewhat of starting over,” coach Dave Jarrett said. “There are relatively new faces, so the expectations are still pretty high, but we have to be realistic. I know those guys are capable of achieving stuff. But we can’t expect too much too soon. We know that it can be achieved. We know that Bill, Johnny and Todd didn’t swallow a magic bullet. They achieved what they did through perseverance and hard work.”

New faces

Without Lodwick and Spill­ane, the U.S. team will consist of gold medalist Billy Demong, silver medal team member Brett Camerota, and Taylor and Bryan Fletcher for the first part of the World Cup season.

Demong and Camerota are expected to lead the team, but the Fletcher brothers showed during summer at the Grand Prix that they are capable of competing at a high level.

“I don’t think there will be as much pressure,” Taylor Fletcher said. “There will be some pressure, but if I can jump well, I can get in the top 30 or even top 15.”

With the World Cup beginning in Kuusamo — where weather can create havoc for even the best skiers — the real peek into where the American team stands will be the Dec. 4 World Cup in Lillehammer, Norway, and the Dec. 11 event in Harrachov, Czech Republic.

“We also are focused on building a strong program from the bottom up which can continue the success we’ve enjoyed,” Demong said in an e-mail. “It’s about getting new guys on the podium to build the legacy.”

Back to the birthplace

In a post-Olympic year, the focus of the team has become the World Championships in Oslo.

After winning both individual events at the 2009 World Championships, the Americans will have five spots available for the competition.

Until then, it should be a hotly contested battle to see who outside the big three takes the other two spots.

Having the World Champ­ionships in Oslo should make it exciting.

“Certainly, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere,” Jarrett said. “But the World Championships are the World Championships. It’s a big deal if it’s in Liberec (Czech Republic) or Oslo. The difference is it being in the cradle of Nordic sports, so to speak. Fans are very knowledgeable. It’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere for all the disciplines.”

Jarrett said the goal of the season remains the same: to get World Cup podiums and get as many World Cup starts as possible.

Outside of the Olympics, Jarrett said, the World Champ­ionships are what matter.

“If we win a medal at the World Championships, it will be success,” he said. “That’s our main focus this season. Our goals and plans are based on the success at the World Championships. We know it’s been somewhat of an incredible run since 2007. We want to continue that because it’s not something we didn’t earn or achieve through hard work and perseverance.”

Spillane recovering fast

After eight surgeries, five of which ended his season, three-time Olympic silver medalist and World Champion Johnny Spillane knows a thing or two about rehabbing.

So even after his latest setback, complete tears of his ACL and MCL in July, Spillane said things are going better than expected.

“Recovery is going really well,” he said Friday from his home. “I’ve started cross-country skiing. That’s earlier than we expected.”

Spillane won’t compete in the early season of the World Cup and said he wouldn’t start jumping until late December.

He said he doesn’t have a timetable for when he will return to the World Cup but won’t return until he is at full strength.

“I know my body, and I know about what I can and can’t do,” he said.

He said he’d be interested in seeing how the early parts of the World Cup play out, but he encouraged people to not draw too much from early results.

“Now our main focus for us older guys is to get good results and get those younger guys up there,” he said.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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