OSLO, Norway (March 13) - The Norwegian team gave the home crowd a show as the nation won the nordic combined team event at the Holmenkollen Ski Festival Saturday, the biggest sporting event in Norway.
The U.S. Ski Team went with its three individual Olympic medalists, adding 18 year old Nick Hendrickson (Park City, UT) as the fourth for the rare World Cup team event.
"Being in the fight at the beginning and in the end, fighting for third place, I think it's a pretty good day all in all," U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett said.
Much as he did in the Olympics, Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO) blasted a massive jump on the new big hill at Holmenkollen, soaring 133.0 meters to lead. Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) was fourth overall as Germany put out four consistent jumps to lead Austria by 28 seconds going into cross country. Norway was two seconds back, with the USA 52 second out in fourth.
Hendrickson drew the opening leg and did an outstanding job in keeping the Americans in contact. Up front, Austria's Bernhard Gruber and Norway's Petter Tande teamed up to catch Germany, with the Austrians taking a slim lead over Norway at the handoff. Hendrickson dropped to seventh, but just 40 seconds behind the leaders.
"He did a good job. These guys wanted him to be the first guy in the race today because he's kind of the representative of the future. Nick is going to be finishing these relays 10 years from now," Jarrett said. "It was a good learning experience for him to be able to compete with these guys and he did a good job. These guys are psyched for him."
In the second leg, Lodwick made up two places to move the USA up to fifth while Austria and Norway battled for the lead. But the USA was still 45 seconds back with Austria's David Kreiner and Norwegian Mikko Kokslien blazing a torrid pace with two of the fastest legs of the afternoon.
Three-time Olympic silver medalist Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) was poised to move up on the third leg, with Norway's weakest cross country skier dropping 25 seconds to the field. But a broken pole killed his chances. Austria moved into a strong lead over Norway while the USA maintained fifth, but dropped a minute, 12 seconds behind the leaders.
In the anchor leg, cross country strongman Magnus Moan stole the show, gaining back the ground lost in the previous leg and passing Austria's Mario Stecher for the win with Germany third. Demong was pitted for the third spot against Olympic champion Jason Lamy Chappuis and held onto fifth while France took the fourth spot.
"Everyone here, especially Todd, Johnny and Billy, just got here on Wednesday and there hasn't been a lot of preparation in that sense. But they did a good job today and we're excited about tomorrow," Jarrett said.
"Despite me not having a great race, and Johnny breaking a pole we managed a solid fifth place in the relay today! Hats off to Nick Hendrickson," Demong added.
All eyes now are fixed on Sunday's nordic combined season finale in the prestigious King's Cup. It also marks a return to Oslo, after the competition was held in Vikersund a year ago while the Holmenkollen jumps were under reconstruction. The fabled King's Cup, first won by American John Bower in 1968, went to Demong a year ago.
"If Todd jumps tomorrow like he did today, he will be in a great starting position. Billy and Johnny were really good in the provisional, so they're all right there," Jarrett said. "Basically we just have to keep doing what we're doing."
Sunday's jumping round is set for 5 a.m. ET with cross country at 7 a.m. ET.