Austria Wins; Second-Best U.S. Worlds Result In Combined Team Comp

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VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (Feb. 24) - Felix Gottwald attacked on a hill midway through the final 5-km lap Monday and lifted Austria past Germany to the nordic combined team title at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Championships. The U.S. foursome, sixth after jumping, posted its second-best result in Worlds annals, finishing fifth.

NBC will broadcast coverage Sunday 1-3 p.m. EST from the World Championships.

World Cup leader and defending champion Ronny Ackermann, who won the combined individual event Friday, had a 3.4-second lead on Gottwald at the start of the final leg of the 4x5-km relay. They flip-flopped the lead a couple of times but when Gottwald pulled away near the top of an uphill, Ackermann couldn't respond and Austria, which led the 95-meter jumping in the morning, went on to victory by 12.6 seconds in Lago di Tesero.

Finland took the bronze, 1:15.5 behind the winners, while the U.S. overtook Japan in the third leg run by Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO), who was more than 30 seconds faster than Japan's Junpei Aoki. Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO), posting the second-fastest final 5-km leg (faster than Ackermann) protected the lead as the anchor. The U.S. was 3:15.2 back of Austria.

SPILLANE SAYS TECHNIQUE CHANGES HELPED
"We made some changes in our jumping after the last one," Spillane said, referring to Friday when Lodwick had the best U.S. result, finishing 14th in the individual combined competition. "That was just so weird…but I think today Todd and I did more of what we can do.

"I'm psyched now for the sprint (Friday)," he said. "I agree with Todd; I think it's going to be wide open. With the winds in the morning, you never know what can happen" with jumping on the 120-meter hill in Predazzo.

"I think this was a pretty darn good performance by the four of us," Lodwick said. "Working without Billy [Demong, out since late summer with a fractured skull], this was amazing to me. I think Jed and Carl performed better than a lot of people would've given them credit for...

"I went out and just tried to ski my own race, and I kept getting faster and faster. It definitely was a confidence boost for me, and I'm sure for Johnny, too. He's jumping well and I think it's going to be wide open in the sprint."

COACH: BEST THE TEAM HAS BEEN ALL SEASON
Said Head Coach Bard Elden, "I'm really happy...really happy, first of all, with the jumping. Johnny and Todd got back to where they should be. Jed's still improving and Carl's the same; as a four-man team, we're better than we've been all year.

"In cross country, they were psyched just to show what they could do. We knew we didn't have a chance beyond fifth, to move up higher would be pretty high hopes," Elden said. "They did a really good job and they wanted to show themselves they could do better than they did" in the individual event last Friday when Lodwick led the U.S. performance in 14th place.

"The most important thing for them is they start believing in themselves again. Jed and Carl are still improving and I think this is another indicator they're going in the right way."

Jumping Coach Corby Fisher added, "This was what we were looking for - to come back. The guys did great." A couple of days of focusing on the basics of good jumping technique paid off and should give them confidence for Friday's sprint, which includes one jump on Predazzo's 120-meter hill followed by a 7.5-km race, he said.

2003 FIS NORDIC WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Predazzo/Lago di Tesero
Val di Fiemme, ITA - Feb. 24
(K95m/4x5-km FR relay)
1. Austria (1/3)
(Gruber/Denifl/Bieler/Gottwald)
2. Germany (2/2) 12.6 seconds back(Schmitt/Hettich/Kircheisen/Ackermann)
3. Finland (3/4) 1:15.5(Manninen/Kaitainen/Tallus/Lajunen)
4. Norway (4/1) 1:39.8
5. USA (6/5) 3:15.2(Van Loan/Hinkley/Spillane/Lodwick)