Midway, Utah Feb. 17, 2002 (AP by Landon Hall)–Bill Demong pulled his USA baseball cap down tight, shielding his eyes as teammate Todd Lodwick covered his face with his hands and wept.
The first U.S. medal in Nordic combined was within reach Sunday, but it slipped away and the team finished a heartbreaking fourth.
“It’s the best result we’ve ever had,” Lodwick said. “But we wanted to win more.”
Finland won its second straight Nordic combined gold medal of the Olympics. The Finns added to their big lead from Saturday’s ski jumping, then coasted to the gold in the 20-kilometer cross-country relay at Soldier Hollow.
The Germans used a late surge by Ronny Ackermann to catch Austrian rival Felix Gottwald for the silver medal, 7.5 seconds behind the Finns. Austria earned the bronze, 11 seconds back.
The Americans finished 1 minute, 11.9 seconds behind the winners. They were a surprising third after the jumping at Olympic Park, sparking hopes of not only bettering the team-best seventh-place showing in 1994 but landing that elusive medal.
They started six seconds ahead of Japan and 17 seconds ahead of the fast-skiing Germans. Bjoern Kircheisen, however, soon caught Lodwick, and the Americans never got back to third. Lodwick collapsed after reaching the finish line and lay in the snow for several minutes.
“I was on a different planet,” he said. “I gave it all, but it wasn’t enough.”
Coach Tom Steitz marveled at the strides the team has taken since finishing 10th out of 11 teams at Nagano four years ago.
“The fact that we were in the hunt _ that’s something that’s never happened in this country,” he said. “I can guarantee you’ll always see this team in the hunt in the Olympics, forever.”
The Finns, who had not won gold in the jumping/racing hybrid since 1948, finished the relay in 48 minutes, 42.2 seconds.
“We had a fantastic ski jumping competition, but maybe there is more pressure when you are leading,” said Samppa Lajunen, who won last week’s individual event, with teammate Jaakko Tallus taking silver.
Demong said it appeared Lodwick used too much energy on his fast start.
“He went out fast and made up a lot of time,” Demong said. “But this is the kind of course where you need to save something.”
The Americans trailed by more than 37 seconds when Lodwick handed off to Demong, who used his 5K leg to cut the Germans’ advantage to 12 seconds.
Johnny Spillane couldn’t keep it up, though. He gave back nearly 42 seconds on his leg, and by the time he tapped anchor Matt Dayton, the U.S. team was out of medal contention.
“There are a lot of long faces up here,” said Luke Bodensteiner, Nordic director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “This team is now among the best in the world in Nordic sports.”
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press