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Thursday, February 21, 2002
 
Lajunen jumps into position; Lodwick 12th

Associated Press


PARK CITY, Utah -- Not even a phone call from John Elway could make Todd Lodwick fly far enough to join the contenders in the final Nordic combined event of the Olympics.

Lodwick is hoping to pull off one of Elway's trademark last-ditch comebacks, though.

"Miracles have happened, and hopefully we can have one tomorrow," Lodwick said after finishing 12th in the jumping portion of the sprint competition Thursday, on the big hill at Olympic Park.

Finland's Samppa Lajunen, who won the individual gold medal and anchored the winning team event, set himself up for his third gold by turning in the best jump of the day on the K120 hill.

Lajunen scored 123.8 points, which will translate into a 15-second lead over second-place Ronny Ackermann in Friday's 7.5-kilometer cross-country race at Soldier Hollow. Lajunen's teammate Jaakko Tallus, the silver medalist in the individual, will start three seconds behind Ackermann.

Lodwick will start 56 seconds behind the leader and 38 seconds behind third place, which makes it unlikely the United States will break through and win its first medal in the sport.

The Americans were third after the team jumping competition last week, but they went out too fast in the next day's relay race and wound up fourth. It still was the best finish ever by a U.S. team.

Lodwick took seventh in the individual event, also the best showing by an American. But since he started seventh and couldn't move up, he joked that he was too big a fan of Elway -- who wore No. 7 as the Denver Broncos' quarterback.

That anecdote made the rounds earlier this week and got back to Elway, who called Lodwick on his cell phone Wednesday. Lodwick paused the video game he was playing, and they chatted for about 20 minutes.

"We talked about everything -- golf, the works," said Lodwick, who's from Steamboat Springs, Colo. "It was really, really cool. He said `Good luck today,' and it was definitely a motivation for me."

Jumpers only get one try in the sprint competition, and Lodwick's jump wasn't nearly as impressive as his earlier ones. But he's only five seconds behind Austria's Felix Gottwald, the top-ranked Nordic combined athlete in the world.

"I'll finish further ahead than when I start," Lodwick said. "The game plan might be to catch Felix right off the bat and see what he's doing and hang with him."

Nobody on the U.S. team performed his best. Bill Demong stands 13th, while Johnny Spillane is 37th and Matt Dayton 39th.

The Americans might have been a bit drained from their relay race on Sunday, when they were visibly let down after finishing 50 seconds behind bronze-winning Austria.

"There will always be sort of a what-if surrounding that," Demong said. "We know now better what we have to do next time. We have to be faster, we have to jump a little farther."