Whistler, British Columbia The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, led by two Steamboat Springs natives and an adopted New Yorker, took silver today in the team event, further defining this squad as the most successful Nordic combined group in American history.
Billy Demong skied the final leg of today's 4x5-kilometer cross-country relay race, finishing just 5.2 seconds back of Mario Stecher and the Austrians, who won gold. The German team took bronze, 19.5 seconds behind Austria.
Demong overtook Stecher on two occasions during that final leg but was unable to maintain the lead entering the stadium in Whistler, British Columbia.
Brett Camerota skied the first leg for the Americans, who entered the ski portion of the race just 2 seconds behind Finland, which had the high jumping score from this morning's competition on the large hill.
Camerota overtook Finland's Janne Ryynaenen in that first lap, giving Todd Lodwick a 2.6-second lead entering the second leg of the relay. Lodwick hung onto the lead for the American team, handing a 0.4-second advantage over the Austrians to Johnny Spillane.
But Felix Gottwald's lap of 12:04.3 was quicker than Spillane's 12:18.8. By the time Spillane handed off to Demong, the Austrians had a 14.1-second edge.
The Americans were never further back than second, and that's where they stood when Demong crossed the finish line, giving the U.S. its first team event medal in Olympic history, and only the second Nordic combined medal whatsoever. Spillane's silver in last week's individual event was the first for the U.S.
The U.S. skiers certainly did everything they could to put themselves into contention for a medal in the team event, finishing second in the jumping portion.
“The team medal is a big goal for us,” Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane said before the cross-country portion began. “So far we’ve done a good job. We’re halfway done. Now we just have to go race as fast as we can.”
The jumping began well for the Americans. Camerota scored a 122.3 on his opening jump to leave the Americans in third.
Lodwick had one of the longest jumps of the day, and the top in his group, scoring 132.2 to put the United States in a tie for first.
Lodwick said after seeing Camerota jump, everything was different.
“All the pressure was gone,” Lodwick said. “We knew we were here to have fun. It’s just go out and perform like we’ve been performing all year.”
Demong scored a 123.8 and Spillane scored a 127.5 to put the Americans in position for a medal fight.
Camerota, who said he was feeling the pressure of being the fourth skier, has been working specifically on his 5-kilometer race for the better part of a couple of months.
“That’s pretty much all I’ve been doing is working on my 5K,” he said before the race. “Hopefully it pays off.”
Under cloudy skies and flat light, the Americans were in first through three rounds. At the end of the third round there was a brief weather delay because of changing winds. The last three jumpers of the third round and last 10 of the fourth round had to wait roughly 20 minutes before jumping.
“The other guys put us in a great spot,” Spillane said. “My job was not to mess it up too bad. The wind started changing, so the last group had lower speeds.”
Camerota, Demong and Spillane scored the third-highest scores in their groups, with Lodwick leading his.
Despite the pressure around the team event, the Americans seemed relaxed and in good spirits.
Demong, who lost his bib during the team event at the World Championships in Japan last year, costing the Americans a chance for a team medal, was able to joke about about the blunder.
“I kept it around my neck all the time and checked it several times,” he said. “I think that was the most popular subject at the top of the hill. The Japanese guy said, ‘You know, you don’t have to bring your bib for the next race.’ And Magnus (Moan from Norway) was giving me a hard time, too. But it’s all in fun and keeps things light.”
“We’ll catch (Finland) for sure,” Spillane said. “But who knows what will happen at the end.”
— To reach Luke Graham, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org