LIBEREC, Czech Republic -- As the seconds ticked down before his allotted time for the ski jump, Bill Demong searched frantically through his clothes. His bib was gone, and so was the United States' chance of another medal at the Nordic skiing world championships.
Demong was disqualified from the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined team event Thursday after not finding his start number on time, giving the Americans just three valid results in the four-man competition. It left the favored team with no reason to ski in the deciding cross-country relay, opting instead to pull out and watch from their hotel as Japan took the gold.
After a record-breaking week for the U.S. ski team, they were undone by an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
"I take responsibility, for sure," Demong said from the hotel. "I checked it on the chairlift on the way up to be sure I had the right number. It slipped down inside my suit on the walk down from the lift."
He later found it in his boot, the team said in a statement.
He did not speak to reporters in the mixed zone at the ski jumping hill, but later talked with German TV station ZDF.
"It's my fault," he said. "I'm an idiot."
Demong had tucked his bib into his jumping suit after the trial round to protect it from the snow, and couldn't find it when it was his turn to jump. Several jumpers helped in the search.
The mishap ruined Todd Lodwick's chances for a third gold medal, after winning the mass start and the individual Gundersen events. Demong was third in Sunday's Gundersen and was looking for a first world title.
The U.S. has three golds, a silver and a bronze in Liberec, after never winning more than one medal at previous worlds.
Norihito Kobayashi held off Germany's Tino Edelmann in a sprint to give Japan the gold and its first medal of the championships. Japan finished the 20-kilometer relay in 48 minutes, 32.3 seconds, with Germany given the same time. Norway was 3.6 seconds back in third.
Race director Ulrich Wehling said Lodwick asked the organizers for an exception to let Demong jump after finding his bib, but was turned down.
"That was not possible," Wehling said. "Everybody has their start time."
The Americans would have had to start the relay more than three minutes behind the leaders, but coach Dave Jarrett said it was better to save the skiers' energy ahead of the final individual competition on Saturday.
"We want to get ready for Saturday now, put this behind us and move forward," Jarrett said. "I know that Bill feels as bad as anybody can feel."
The mishap left rivals in disbelief.
"I never experienced anything like that," said Tomas Slavik of the Czech Republic. "It's a huge disappointment for him. But there's nothing he can do about it. It's the world championships and the rules are given, every athlete needs to have a starting number. It's bad luck."
Also Thursday, Finland won the women's cross-country relay. Aino Kaisa Saarinen secured her third gold medal of the championships after erasing an 8-second deficit to Norway's Marthe Kristoffersen and pulling away on the fourth leg. Finland finished the 20-kilometer relay in 54 minutes, 24.3 seconds.
Germany was 13 seconds back in second, followed by Sweden. Kristoffersen tired at the end and was passed by Claudia Nystad and Charlotte Kalla on the final straight as Norway settled for fourth.