Sunday, February 24, 2002
Americans make great Nordic strides in Utah
MIDWAY, Utah -- For the U.S. Nordic skiing teams, close
counts, fourth-place finishes are fantastic and best showings ever
are cause for celebration. These Americans aren't quite ready to
measure success with medals.
American Todd Lodwick finished out of medal contention, but his seventh-place showing in the Nordic combined was the best in U.S. history.
"That day will come," cross-country skier Justin Wadsworth
The U.S. Nordic skiing program, which includes biathlon,
cross-country and Nordic combined, enjoyed its top Olympic
performance in 26 years at the Salt Lake City Games. And it didn't
"I don't think any of us would tell you that we came here just
to race and to compete in the Olympics," biathlete Rachel Steer
said. "We really needed to raise the bar, and I think we did. But
we're not satisfied. Hopefully that will drive us through the next
four years of training."
And possibly put them on the podium in 2006.
The United States failed to medal in five Olympic sports at
these games: curling, ski jumping and the three Nordic skiing
disciplines. The Americans were shut out at Soldier Hollow.
But the Nordic skiing teams had several breakthrough
performances on the men's side, and the athletes hope those results
will help propel the programs into the world's elite group -- and
into medal contention.
"The men's teams had huge, huge results," Steer said. "That's
what we need (kids) to see. If they see it, then we can raise
interest and that will give us promise for the future."
The women fared much worse. Steer had the highest biathlon
finish, 31st, and Nina Kemppel had the best cross country finish,
"(The men) definitely have a head start on us as far as
development, but we're looking really strong for four years from
now," cross-country skier Barbara Jones said. "Eight years from
now, I think we can be in the medals. I really believe that."
The men expect to be there sooner, especially after their
performances in these games:
Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong, Johnny Spillane and Matt Dayton
finished fourth in the Nordic combined team event, falling to
0-for-24 all time in the event but coming closer than ever to a
Lodwick finished fifth in the Nordic combined sprint, topping
his seventh-place showing a week earlier and giving the United
States its best showing in an individual event.
Jay Hakkinen finished 13th in the men's 20K biathlon, the best
showing for an American in any individual biathlon event. The
previous U.S. best had been 14th, accomplished four times.
John Bauer, Kris Freeman, Carl Swenson and Wadsworth finished
fifth in the men's cross-country relay, giving the United States
its best showing in the team event.
Bauer finished 12th in the men's 15-kilometer classical, the
best American cross-country finish at the Winter Games since Bill
Koch won the silver medal in a 30K race at the 1976 Innsbruck
Koch also finished sixth in the 15K, sixth in the relay and 13th
in the 50K, almost single-handily carrying the U.S. team to its top
performance in an Olympics.
Many of the skiers racing now grew up idolizing Koch. But they
probably won't be around in 2006, so it's time to find somebody
knew to look up to.
These Olympics might have done that, especially with young
American stars like Lodwick, Demong, Hakkinen and Freeman, a
confident 21-year-old skier who finished 15th and 22nd in
"There's going to be a whole new outlook in North America,"
Wadsworth said. "Younger kids are going to say, 'We can do it
now.' The young kids know we're not worse than the Europeans now.
That's what we need, the confidence."
They could use more facilities like Soldier Hollow, too.
"The facilities and the programs need to be built to make this
sport more desirable," Lodwick said. "Everywhere you turn,
there's a baseball field, a football stadium or a basketball hoop.
Kids don't have anything else to do, so that's what they end up
doing and become good at it. They don't know any better.
"It's not the fault of the U.S. It's the lack of the
More facilities could result in increased participation in the
Nordic sports. Just about every member of the Nordic combined team
is from Steamboat Springs, Colo. Five cross-country skies and three
biathletes are from Alaska.
"It's time to stop European-worshiping, as I call it," Freeman
said. "We know how to race. You can be as good as you want to be --
it doesn't matter what country you're from -- and I think we're
showing that now.
"The United States is coming."