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Caple: Plenty of effort, but no medals

U.S. Nordic team in third after ski jumping

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Sunday, February 17, 2002
Finland wins 2nd straight Nordic gold; USA 4th

Associated Press

MIDWAY, Utah -- The U.S. Nordic combined team had its first medal in sight, only to let it slip away. The shaken athletes took their fourth-place finish hard, leaving their coach to put it in perspective.
Finland's Nordic Combined Team
Finland took gold in both the men's individual (Samppa Lajunen, far right) and the team Nordic combined events.

The Americans fell to 0-for-24 in Nordic combined events all-time, but tried to take solace in its fourth-place finish in Sunday's team competition -- the closest they have ever come to a medal.

"There is no consolation," said Todd Lodwick, who started out quickly on the first leg but soon faded. "For the last four years, we've been trying to work up to this one day, and it didn't happen. The clock is stopped. We can't do anything about it."

Coach Tom Steitz, who has marveled at the strides the team has taken since finishing 10th of 11 teams in Nagano, preferred to look on the bright side.

"Right now it's tough to look at it as a positive," said coach Tom Steitz, "but when I took over (in 1992), the press conference was over before the team made it to the finish line."

Finland won its second straight Nordic combined gold medal of the Olympics by adding to the big lead it built during Saturday's ski jumping and then coasting to the gold in the 20-kilometer cross-country relay at Soldier Hollow.

The Finns, who entered the games without a gold medal in the jumping/racing hybrid since 1948, finished the relay in 48 minutes, 42.2 seconds.

"We had a fantastic ski-jumping competition, but maybe there is more pressure when you are leading," said Samppa Lajunen, who won last week's individual event, with teammate Jaakko Tallus taking silver.

Germany used a late surge by Ronny Ackermann to catch Austrian rival Felix Gottwald for the silver medal, 7.5 seconds behind the Finns. Austria got the bronze, 11 seconds back.

The Americans finished fourth -- 1 minute, 11.9 seconds behind the winners. They were a surprising third after the jumping at Olympic Park, sparking hopes of not only bettering the team-best seventh-place showing in 1994, but getting that elusive medal.

They started six seconds ahead of Japan and 17 seconds ahead of the fast-skiing Germans. However, Bjoern Kircheisen soon caught Lodwick.

"After three kilometers, I realized there was a lot of pressure, and that Todd was getting a little tired," Kircheisen said.

Demong said it appeared Lodwick used up too much energy on his fast start.

"He went out fast and made up a lot of time," Demong said of Lodwick. But this is the kind of course where you need to save something."

The Americans trailed by more than 37 seconds when Lodwick handed off to Bill Demong, but Demong did well on his 5K leg, cutting the Germans' advantage to just 12 seconds.

Johnny Spillane couldn't keep it up, though: He gave back nearly 42 seconds on his leg, and by the time he tapped anchor Matt Dayton, the U.S. team was out of medal contention.

"We were looking for something with a silver or bronze color to it, so I'm a little disappointed," Demong said. "I feel like I left something out there."

Finland, led by the strong-jumping duo of Lajunen and Tallus, began with a 44-second lead over Austria. The first three Finns increased the lead to more than 50 seconds, giving Lajunen plenty of cushion to bring home the victory.