Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Faces Long Odds to Repeat Unlikely Success ; Americans Seek to Return to Podium in a Sport Long Dominated by Norway

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Faces Long Odds to Repeat Unlikely Success ; Americans Seek to Return to Podium in a Sport Long Dominated by Norway

Article excerpt

In the coming week, two Americans will try to win back-to-back medals in Nordic combined.

It is one of the rarest of rarities in the Winter Games: An American defending his or her title in a Nordic skiing event.

Yet in the coming week, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick will try to win back-to-back medals in Nordic combined, an event that includes cross-country skiing and ski jumping.

Since the first Winter Games in 1924, the Norwegians have dominated the event, winning 27 medals, nearly twice as many as Finland, the second-place team.

After years of futility, the Americans won a stunning four out of nine possible medals in Vancouver, British Columbia, their first and only Olympic medals in the sport. The success was particularly surprising because the United States has won very few Olympic medals in cross-country and ski jumping.

But the Americans invested in Nordic combined in the 1990s ahead of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, and it paid dividends in Vancouver, where Demong and Johnny Spillane finished first and second in the large hill ski jump and 10-kilometer, or six- mile, cross-country race. Spillane also won a silver medal in the normal hill event, and Demong and Spillane, along with Lodwick and Brett Camerota, won a silver medal in the four-man team event where each team member jumps twice from the large hill and then skis a five-kilometer leg in a 20-kilometer relay.

The question is whether they can replicate even part of that success this year in Sochi, Russia, let alone in the years ahead. Some indications are not promising.

Spillane and Camerota are not competing, and Demong, who temporarily retired, said he expected to retire for good not long after these Winter Games. Lodwick is 37 and competing in his sixth Winter Olympics, a record for Nordic combined. That leaves Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, two up-and-comers in their mid-20s, as the next in line.

"It's the Fletcher brothers and then it's T.B.D.," said Jeff Hastings, the ski jumping and Nordic combined analyst for NBC Sports. "When you lose Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick, it's tough."

The first of three Nordic combined events here on Wednesday -- the normal hill jump and the 10-kilometer race -- was not uplifting. Demong finished 24th, the best among the four Americans. Lodwick, who is recuperating from a shoulder injury, jumped but did not ski. Bryan and Taylor Fletcher finished 26th and 33rd.

Still, Lodwick said that the team's success in Vancouver may have created outsize expectations, but that should not hold this year's team back.

"That's not a bad thing," he said. "We'll try to unleash it again. The Olympic Games is a whole new animal, a different breed."

If the Americans are going to unleash their attack, it is likely to come in the team event next Thursday, which includes four men jumping off the large hill and then racing five kilometers around a course that circles the ski jump venue.

The Americans won the bronze medal in this event at the World Championships in Italy last year, though that was before Lodwick hurt his shoulder in a ski jump accident. …

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