Midway, Utah Feb. 12, 2002 (AP by Mark Long)--American cross-country skier John Bauer came to these Olympics with one purpose: to leave with a career-best finish.
He got what he wanted Tuesday in the men's 15-kilometer classic-style event. Bauer, a three-time Olympian from Duluth, Minn., finished 12th--the best American cross-country finish at the Winter Games since Bill Koch won a silver medal in a 30K race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.
``I never really had a great Olympics, and that's the primary reason I wanted to be here,'' said the 33-year-old Bauer. ``I was hoping for a top 10, so it's pretty close.''
Bauer's finish highlighted a strong showing for the United State in a sport traditionally dominated by Norway, Sweden, Finland and the former Soviet Union.
Patrick Weaver of Lennox, Mass., finished 16th, Kris Freeman of Concord, N.H., was 22nd and Lars Flora of Anchorage, Alaska, was 56th in the 67-man field.
After finishing 106th in the 1998-99 World Cup standings, Bauer took much of the next year off to focus on his massage therapy business in Duluth.
He returned for the Continental Cup in January 2000, but finished fifth, 23rd and 31st in three events. Then he competed in the 2001 U.S. championships in McCall, Idaho, finishing ninth, 30th and 83rd.
Those races, coupled with poor finishes in 1992 at Albertville and in 1998 at Nagano, forced him to rededicate himself to a sport that had become an essential part of his life since 1985.
``I was too far back to really be happy,'' he said.
His turnaround began last summer. He started high-intensity training three days a week _ three hours every Friday, four or five hours every Saturday and six hours every Sunday.
He would run and roller-ski along miles and miles of mountain trails.
``I trained quite a bit alone. It doesn't really work any other way,'' he said.
The quiet trails gave him plenty of time to think about returning to the Winter Games and improving on those performances. His best finish was a 23rd-place showing in the 10K classical event in 1992. He finished no better than 41st in four individual races in Nagano.
Bauer knew he wanted to return to the Olympics once the season got under way. And he made it happen at this year's U.S. championships in Bozeman, Mont., where he won three races _ the pursuit, 10K classical and 50K classical _ and was honored as the most outstanding male athlete.
He topped it all with his Olympic performance, and it could get even better. He has three events left: the pursuit on Thursday, the 4x5K relay on Feb. 21 and the 50K on Feb. 23.
``Anything can happen in the Olympics,'' he said.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press