The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team continued its march into history at these Games, winning silver for its first-ever medal in the team relay on Tuesday. Anchor leg Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) held the lead with little more than a kilometer to go, but Austria's Mario Stecher out-sprinted him to victory.
Johnny Spillane of the US competes in the Nordic Combined Team Ski Jumping at Whistler Olympic Park on February 23, 2010 during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
"This is the greatest moment in nordic combined history for the USA," said Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO). "All three of us are psyched to be here. We're psyched to be here as a team. We've persevered over the last 10 years to get to this point. We feel like we've earned this silver medal and this spot in history."
The USA set itself up for the medal push with a sensational showing on the jump hill, with all four U.S. skiers pushing out to the bottom of the hill to stand second, just two seconds behind Finland.
They opened the relay with Brett Camerota (Park City, UT), whose job was to stay with the Finn. Camerota did more, taking the lead coming into the stadium after his 5K stint. In the second leg, Lodwick maintained the lead through the first half of the race, but faced a formidable challenge from Austria's David Kreiner.
In the third relay leg, normal hill silver medalist Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) battled back and forth with Austrian Felix Gottwald. The two built a cushion over the rest of the field, but Spillane was left behind as Gottwald sprinted past him in the last kilometer and built a 14-second lead for Demong to attack on his anchor leg.
Demong was up to the challenge. Last year's large hill World Champion in Liberec, Czech Republic, he charged intently after Stecher and passed him on a climb midway through the 5K course.
Falling snow began to accumulate, however, and Demong had chosen skis for lighter conditions that existed before the race. Stecher took advantage of his superior descending ability and reclaimed the lead late, withstanding Demong's final push at the finish.
"It's always a benefit to draft a little bit, but today I definitely knew I needed to be clear of Mario before we got into that final downhill to have a chance," Demong said. "I was going up that last hill really hard like 'I think maybe I'm getting away,' and then I hit him with my pole right toward the top, I felt him back there and I was like, 'Nope, he's still there.'"
It is the second medal for the U.S. since nordic combined competition began in 1924, both coming in these Games. Lodwick, Spillane and Demong also competed together to take fourth in Salt Lake and seventh in Torino.
"I think we're really happy with whatever," Demong said. "For sure, we did a really good job today. We knew that gold was possible. I knew it, on the last lap, it was what my goal was, but as a team and as a whole I think we're really satisfied with the show we did today."
Lodwick had a jump of 136.5 meters to lead the team into second place after the first round, trailing Finland by 2 seconds and leading third-place Austria by 34.
"I came out of retirement for two reasons: One, to have a lot of fun, and two, to get some hardware," Lodwick said. "I was hugely successful at World Championships, and now have been over successful here, so it's great."
Spillane said he was more than pleased by his second silver, too, even if it could have easily been gold.
"I had a good race, and you can hold your head up high when you gave it your best effort," he said. "We were hoping to be fighting for the win and we were. Maybe it didn't quite go as we wanted at the end, but you can't complain at all. Every single guy gave 100 percent effort.
"Everybody's jumping well and skiing well, so now we have one more event to try and do well at."
The large hill individual competition ends the nordic combined schedule Thursday. The competition round begins at 10 a.m. PT, with the race set for 1 p.m.
"I feel good," Demong said. "We did a good training camp before, we did a good break last week, and if I can put down a good jump, I fill like I could be in there for an individual medal on Thursday as well."
2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Whistler Olympic Park – Feb. 23
Nordic Combined Team 4x5K Relay
Gold – Austria (3, 1), 49:31.6
Silver – United States (2, 4), +5.2
Bronze – Germany (6, 2), +19.5
4. France (5, 3), +39.8