Americans Soar Towards Medals in Nordic Combined

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Park City, Utah Feb. 9, 2002 (AP by Landon Hall)--Americans Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong put themselves in position to win their country's first-ever medal in Nordic combined, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, in Saturday's ski-jumping portion.

Aided by a slight headwind and a rejiggered starting position on the 90-meter hill at Utah Olympic Park, Lodwick leaped 92.5 meters on his second jump. Lodwick equaled the mark, and both scored high on judges' style points, which are added to the distance points.

The second half of the event, the 15-kilometer freestyle skiing race, will be held Sunday at the Soldier Hollow cross-country site. Lodwick will start 2 minutes, 15 seconds behind leader Jaakko Tallus of Finland, while while Demong will begin the race 2:20 back.

Lodwick, 25, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., is regarded as the best American hope for a medal. He has improved his skiing technique since finishing 14th in Lillehammer and 20th in Nagano. Demong, 21, of Vermontville, N.Y., is competing in his first Olympics.

By virtue of their performances Saturday, the two men already might have exceeded expectations in a sport their countrymen traditionally have struggled with. The highest Olympic finish by a U.S. athlete is ninth, in 1932 by Rolf Monsen.

The top jumpers turned in some strong marks late in the first round, but a tailwind began blowing downhill early in the second round, forcing the jumpers' ski tips downard and resulting in shorter distances.

After 14 competitors went, the metal starting bar was hiked up two gates, and about the same time a headwind began blowing in from the grandstand, giving the jumpers more lift.

Tallus vaulted 95.5 meters on his second jump for a combined score of 267.5 points. Mario Stecher of Austria is in second (258.0), followed by Samppa Lajunen of Finland (257.0).

Lodwick and Demong scored 240.5 and 239.5 points, respectively.

The top-ranked Nordic combined athlete in the world, Austria's Felix Gottwald, turned in a poor first jump and stands 11th.

The regular 90-meter jumping was postponed because of a storm that caused whiteout conditions on Friday. The weather was completely the opposite Saturday, with near-cloudless skies.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press