Originally created 02/15/02

Americans' medal hopes in Nordic combined on hold



PARK CITY, Utah -- The U.S. Nordic combined team thinks it has something big in store for Americans who still don't know much about them or their obscure sport.

It'll just have to wait for another two days.

The jumping half of the Nordic combined team event was postponed Thursday, after officials decided that swirling winds on the small hill at Olympic Park would have made for an unfair competition.

"Of course we're all let down," said U.S. athlete Bill Demong. "We wanted to jump today. We've been looking forward to this competition all season and we feel like we have something to prove.

"When the weather is ready, we'll be ready."

The jumping was rescheduled for Saturday, with the second half of the event - the 20-kilometer relay cross-country race on the Soldier Hollow course - set for Sunday.

In the team competition, each of the four athletes jumps twice, and the scores are averaged. The points are turned into time for the 4x5-kilometer race, with the top jumping team starting first.

Nordic combined and biathlon are the only sports in which an American has never won a medal. But the U.S. team showed signs of a breakthrough in the first event last weekend. Todd Lodwick, 25, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished seventh - the best U.S. showing ever in the sport. Teammates Matt Dayton and Demong took 18th and 19th, respectively, marking the first time the Americans placed three men in the top 20 in the same Olympic race.

After Sunday's race, Lodwick all but predicted a medal in the team competition. After the European medalists had left the interview tent near the course, Lodwick looked out at the handful of reporters who stayed behind to talk to the Americans.

"This team has a huge shot at filling every one of these seats in here the next time we have an interview," Lodwick said, "because we'll have something to really talk about."

For once, the Americans have a deep talent pool of athletes from which to build a strong relay team. At the very least, the team should top its best-ever showing in an Olympics: seventh in 1994. Lodwick and Demong both were on the team that stumbled to a 10th-place finish in Nagano.

Besides Lodwick and Demong, the relay team has Dayton, a very strong skier who moved up 15 spots in Sunday's race. The last participant will be 21-year-old Johnny Spillane, who took 14th in the sprint at last year's world championships in Finland.

Thursday's competition was delayed 4 1/2 hours by high winds, before the sun came out and a jury of officials allowed some jumpers to take a training run. Only a few went down the hill before it was called off.

"The winds were just too inconsistent for these guys to get the same conditions for each jump," said U.S. coach Tom Steitz.

Conditions weren't unsafe for the jumpers, but the unpredictable breeze was blowing in from all directions at different times.

"After waiting all day, the jury had no confidence that the winds would stabilize," said Alan Johnson, competition manager for ski jumping.

More than 19,000 tickets were sold to the event, and they will be honored at other events at the Park - luge, bobsled and skeleton.