Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • The U.S. Nordic combined team got in a good workout Wednesday on the cross country course at the Olympic ski jump complex, but that was the bad news.
"It was, unfortunately, a good training day at the Olympics," 2010 Olympic champion Bill Demong said after finishing 24th in the first Nordic combined event of the Games.
The brothers from Steamboat Springs, Colo., Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, finished 26th and 33rd, respectively. Fellow Steamboat native Todd Lodwick, who injured his right shoulder last month in a jump training accident that has required significant physical therapy over the past five weeks, participated in the jump portion of the competition but skipped the cross country race.
The humbling day for the U.S. didn’t really come as a surprise. Their best events — the team event and the "Large" hill event — are next week. This was the "normal" hill event, which usually isn’t a good one for them, especially here.
"It was an extremely challenging jump," said Bryan Fletcher, who finished 41st in the jumping competition but passed 14 people in the 10-kilometer skate ski. "I think this is probably one of the hardest hills I’ve ever jumped. It was really difficult to find the rhythm. I found it in the trial round today but went for it in the (competition) jump, laid it all out on the line, all or nothing, and unfortunately it didn’t work out. We’ll try again next week."
Taylor finished last in the jump competition and had to wait 2 minutes and 34 seconds after the winning jumper (Germany’s Eric Frenzel, the eventual gold medalist) began the cross country race before he could start. Taylor passed 12 people.
"It was a long time sitting at that start line," Taylor said. "It’s definitely something I never want to do again."
Like his older brother, Taylor is mystified by the normal hill here.
"I don’t understand it, I think a lot of people have the same feelings," Taylor said. "I don’t know what it is that makes it so difficult. We’ve jumped the big hill, I was fifth here last year on it, it was my best jumping result. I know I can reproduce that."
U.S. Nordic combined went to the Vancouver Olympics four years ago having never won an Olympic medal and brought home four. In addition to Demong’s gold in the Large hill event, Johnny Spillane took silver in that event and the Normal hill event, and they took a third silver in the team event. Spillane, another Steamboat skier, has since retired.
Now the question is whether they can medal next week with Lodwick nursing a sore shoulder. He is a six-time Olympian and two-time world championships gold medalist.
"He’s tough and he’s inspired," Demong said. "The coaches are doing a good job of reining him back a little bit so he will be in the best shape that he can be. I think he’s worked harder than if he’d been healthy, just because he’s so focused on making sure everything is ready to go.
"We all know Todd, when he’s back against the wall, has the potential to do great things."
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