U.S. Nordic Combined Team Hopes to Leave on High Note

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Park City, Utah Feb. 22, 2002 (AP by Landon Hall)--There is no pressure for the U.S. Nordic combined team: It already has exceeded expectations, which weren't high to begin with.

The U.S. team entered the Olympics never having won a medal in this sport. The Americans still don't have one, but they came close: They finished fourth in the team competition, and Lodwick finished seventh in the individual event.

``I hope it doesn't take a medal to get Nordic combined recognized,'' Lodwick said. ``It would have been really, really nice. But fourth, that's the best we've ever done, and we also took seventh, so we've got to be proud of that.''

Next up is Friday's 7.5-kilometer cross-country race, the last Nordic combined event of the Winter Games. Todd Lodwick, the best of the U.S. jumpers on Thursday, was in 12th place, 56 seconds behind the leader.

The Finns hold first and third place. Austrian Felix Gottwald, ranked No. 1 in the world, will be trying to add a gold medal to his two bronzes.

``I think the pressure's off for tomorrow's ski race, so I would expect a pretty good ski race out of everybody,'' U.S. coach Tom Steitz said Thursday. ``We're not in contention by any means, so there's just a chance to go out there and ski fast, and that usually works out OK for us.''

Finland's Samppa Lajunen, who won the individual gold medal and anchored the winning team event, set himself up for his third gold by making the best jump on the K120 hill Thursday.

Lajunen scored 123.8 points, which will translate into a 15-second lead over second-place Ronny Ackermann of Germany. Finland's Jaakko Tallus, the silver medalist in the individual, will start three seconds behind Ackermann.

Nobody on the U.S. team performed his best. Bill Demong stands 13th, while Johnny Spillane is 37th and Matt Dayton 39th.

``It wasn't as good as we've been doing, so that's a little bit of a disappointment,'' Steitz said. ``Todd's sort of close, in the hunt, for the cross-country, so that could be interesting.''

Lodwick got an extra bit of inspiration when he received a phone call from John Elway. Lodwick joked last week that maybe he liked the quarterback great too much: Lodwick started seventh in the individual and finished in the same position--Elway's jersey number when he was on the Denver Broncos.

That anecdote made the rounds earlier this week and got back to Elway, who called Lodwick on his cell phone Wednesday. Lodwick paused the video game he was playing, and they chatted for about 20 minutes.

``We talked about everything--golf, the works,'' said Lodwick, who is from Steamboat Springs, Colo. ``It was really, really cool. He said `Good luck today,' and it was definitely a motivation for me.''

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