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TORINO: NC: Gottwald nabs sprint gold; Lodwick, Spillane finish in top 10

TORINO: NC: Gottwald nabs sprint gold; Lodwick, Spillane finish in top 10{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Still breathing hard and red-faced, Felix Gottwald took a big gulp of water, grinned and described just how much another gold medal means to him and his fellow Austrians.

Gottwald used a powerful sprint to rally for victory in the nordic combined sprint Tuesday, giving Austria its record eighth gold medal of the Torino Olympics – a bright spot for a country caught in the middle of a doping scandal.

”It’s unbelievable,” Gottwald said. ”When I saw the medal count and we had seven golds and we were one behind the Germans, it was amazing. Now we have one more. It’s an unbelievable Games for Austria. We’re a really big sports nation and I’m really happy we have so many good athletes.”

Gottwald won his second gold of these games by making up a 54-second deficit from the morning’s jumping portion of the event, racing to a total winning time of 18 minutes, 29 seconds – 5.4 seconds ahead of silver medalist Magnus Moan of Norway. Germany’s Georg Hettich took the bronze after having the best jump earlier in the day.

Gottwald, who started 12th after the jumping portion, completed the 7.5-kilometer cross-country portion of the race in 17:35. He skied down the final stretch alone, then raised his arms as he crossed the line. Moments later, he lifted a ski in each hand and blew a kiss to celebrate his sixth career Olympic medal.

He was a member of Austria’s winning foursome in the large-hill team event Thursday.

”I tried not to plan the race,” the 30-year-old Gottwald said. ”I just tried to race the race. I knew I was in good shape and could make my own race.”

Austria’s previous high for gold medals in a Winter Olympics was six.

Hannu Manninen of Finland placed a disappointing 12th, missing out on what might have been his last chance at an individual Olympic medal. He had won four of the seven World Cup sprint events this season, including three straight. But he was 16th after the jump and started 1:10 behind the leading Hettich.

Manninen, a three-time World Cup champion, has never won an individual medal in the Olympics and said before the games this would likely be his last Olympics. He fought a virus in recent days.

”I’m disappointed. It’s a shame these Games weren’t normal for me,” Manninen said. ”It’s not the best feeling. I’ve been in bed for days fighting a virus. I tried to get some power for the event today but wasn’t able to get it. I just tried to hang on.”

A time of 17.57.4 was good enough for Todd Lodwick to lead entries from the United States, taking ninth place in the final standings.

Lodwick’s time was 42.4 off the pace set by Gottwald of Austria.

Johnny Spillane finished right behind Lodwick in 10th place at 18:10.2, 46.2 behind Gottwald. Bill Demong was 25th at 18:29.7, edging Tomas Slavik of the Czech Republic in a photo finish. Eric Camerota was 39th at 18:59.8.

“During the race, the plan was to stick with Kircheisen,” said Lodwick. “He went really fast – there’s a little bit of a knoll at the beginning of the last hill, and he went really, really hard up it. I really didn’t want to do that because I knew there was the big hill up above. And then Hannu [Manninen] made a move and I thought he was going, so I stuck with him. Ten seconds later, he was done. So I just put the hammer down and went regardless, just laid it out there and put the hurt on the rest of the crowd and I think it paid off.”

It was Lodwick’s second top-10 finish at the Torino Olympics as he was eighth in the individual back on Feb. 11. At the ’02 Games, Lodwick posted all-time U.S. bests – fifth in the sprint and seventh in the individual. He was also part of the squad that placed fifth in the team event.

“It’s always not fun to think about it before, to think about the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve – if the air was better, if I had a better jump,” said Lodwick when asked about going out without a shot at a medal. “I’ve been Olympic champion a hundred times in my head. Sometimes you work really hard and don’t accomplish what you set out to. It’s just been a hell of a ride – two top-10 finishes at the Olympic Games when a bag of trash could have jumped further than I did (laughing).”

“The guys in the waxroom did a great job,” said U.S. coach Dave Jarret. “Todd and Johnny, and Bill, for that matter, did a great job. Bill’s strategy was to open as hard as he possibly could and see what would happen and you could see he kinda blew up. He had good skis and needed three or four more meters jumping and would have been right there for a medal. But Todd and Johnny, they had a good race.”

The sprint was the final nordic combined event of the Torino Olympics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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