Lajunen Wins Third Nordic Combined Gold

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Midway, Utah (AP by Landon Hall)--Finland's Samppa Lajunen completed a sweep of the three Nordic combined events by winning the gold medal in the sprint on Friday.

Lajunen, the leader after Thursday's ski-jumping competition, began the 7.5-kilometer cross-country race at Soldier Hollow 15 seconds ahead of Germany's Ronny Ackermann. Lajunen kept the lead for most of the race and finished nine seconds ahead of Ackermann. Felix Gottwald of Austria moved up eight spots to take the bronze.

Todd Lodwick started 12th but finished fifth, the best showing ever by an American in the sport. The previous best was Lodwick's seventh place in the individual competition on Feb. 10.

Lodwick began 56 seconds behind the leader but just five seconds behind Gottwald, ranked No. 1 in the world. Knowing Gottwald is an exceptional skier, Lodwick stayed with him for most of the race, and even moved all the way up to third at one point before Gottwald passed him.

Lodwick held fourth until the final kilometer, when he was overtaken by Finland's Jaakko Tallus.

Among the other Americans, Bill Demong finished 14th, Johnny Spillane 32nd and Matt Dayton 36th.

The Finns hadn't won a gold medal in Nordic combined since 1948 entering these Olympics, but they were far and away the best. Lajunen won the individual, with Tallus finishing second, and Lajunen also anchoring the Finns' winning team in the relay.

The victory in the sprint competition, which made its debut at these games, gave Finland all three golds and made Lajunen the first Finnish athlete to win three golds at one Olympics since ski-jumper Matti Nykanen won three in 1988.

Lajunen finished second in the two events in Nagano, and he was helped immensely by the sudden retirement of double-gold medalist Bjarte Engen Vik last year.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press