RAMSAU, Austria (Dec. 20) - The U.S. Ski Team's Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO) fell just short of the podium in fifth Sunday as a veritable freight train of nordic combined skiers battled right down to the wire in Ramsau. Despite France's Jason Lamy Chappuis leading after the jump, the Frenchman couldn't hold on for the three-event weekend sweep as Germany's Bjorn Kircheisen took the win.
Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick are neck-in-neck on a Ramsau downhill. (Getty Images/Samuel Kubani-AFP)
Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO), who was fourth Saturday, finished 13th. Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY), who led the U.S. in the jump at 17th, finished a spot behind in 14th.
The field was out to get Lamy Chappuis from the start with Norway's Petter Tande leading the charge. At the end of the first 2.5K lap there were 12 skiers within 4.4 seconds of the leader, with Lodwick and Demong another five seconds back.
The first lap objective for the Americans was to get themself free of the pack to avoid problems. It played out well, with Lodwick skiing with Demong. With the new jump scoring system, which adjusts scores based on wind, it has created much more compacted fields - especially on smaller jumps, like the HS98 meter hill in Ramsau.
"I was really pleased with the way I tactically raced today," said Lodwick. "It was important to stay up front and not get tangled up in the mix with 40 some guys racing together. I started with BIll and stayed with him because he's been racing fast and I wanted to find where we played out on the first lap. We ended up right in there. Then I heard Johnny right up there with us, too."
Tande took over at 3.3K, coming into the stadium at the midway point still in the lead, but now with Lodwick and Demong close behind in fourth and sixth.
Heading into the final lap, Norway's Magnus Moan took the lead whle Kircheisen set himself up for the final push. Lodwick and Demong were then joined by Spillane in the top 10 - all within seconds of the leaders.
"I'm just trying to get my race legs under me and I felt better today, but didn't want to push mysefl over the edge," said Lodwick who was just 6.7 seconds away from the win. "It was a tangled mess in the back and Bill and Johnny got stepped on."
Indeed, Lodwick and Spillane lost valuable seconds in the tangle, dropping them about seven seconds behind Lodwick. In the sprint to the finish, Kircheisen was able to hold off challenges from Moan and Austria's Felix Gottwald to get the win.
"The weekend on all fronts was good for us as a Team," said the veteran Lodwick. "We accomplished some fantastic stuff this week. But what I'm really proud of is Brett [Camerota, Park City, UT] really stepping up (with a personal World Cup best on Saturday). We've got three strong guys but we need a fourth in the team event."
To illustrate the depth that continues to build with the U.S. nordic combined program, Camerota's brother Eric (Park City, UT), along with Nick Hendrickson (Park City, UT), Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO) and Alex Miller (Steamboat Springs, CO) have all recorded personal bests at FIS Continental Cups in Utah and Lake Placid the last two weekends.
While the U.S. athletes didn't strike the podium, all three top racers were in the hunt every day - including 2003 World Champion Spillane, who was fourth on Saturday. The veteran is enjoying one of his strongest seasons in several years, despite knee surgery this summer and fall.
The U.S. Ski Team now heads home for Wednesday's Olympic Trials in Steamboat Springs, CO where the winner gets an automatic Olympic berth.
"Olympic Trials for me this week is another step to perform well - jump and ski to the best of my ability," said Lodwick. "It's in my hometown so I want to do well. But it's also a great opportunity for one of the guys who really want to make the Team."
The Olympic Trials are Wednesday morning at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs.
FIS Nordic Combined World Cup
Dec. 20, 2009
1. Bjorn Kircheisen, Germany, (11/13) 23:29.7
2. Magnus Moan, Norway, (38/1) +0.4 seconds
3. Felix Gottwald, Austria, (23/4) 0.7
4. Anssi Koivuranta, Finland, (16/8) 1.7
5. Todd Lodwick, Steamboat Springs, CO, (17/10) 6.7
13 Johnny Spillane, Steamboat Springs, CO, (28/5) 12.9
14. Billy Demong, Vermontville, NY, (17/14) 14.8
39. Brett Camerota, Park City, UT, (21/50) 2:09.0
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Todd Lodwick soars during Sunday's jump in Ramsau. (Getty Images/Samuel Kubani-AFP)