TORINO: NC: Veteran Lodwick leads four U.S. men into Saturday's 15 km


TORINO: NC: Veteran Lodwick leads four U.S. men into Saturday’s 15 km{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – The U.S. nordic combined ski team has named its starters for its first Olympic event, the normal-hill individual Gundersen/15 km, which will be held Saturay, Feb. 11 in Pragelato.

The four-member squad consists of Brett Camerota, Bill Demong, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane.

Lodwick enters his fourth Olympics (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006) as the most successful U.S. nordic combined skier in history. He owns the best Olympic finishes ever posted by a U.S. athlete as he had a fifth and a seventh in ‘02. Speaking of U.S. records, Lodwick is also tops with 15 national titles (eight combined, seven jumping) and 13 straight top 10s in ‘04.

‘Todd is in a good place right now’ said U.S. head coach Bard Elden. ‘He’s right in there with the longest jumps. He’s maybe not quite where he wants to be, but he’s very, very close. I have never seen Todd so focused and he’s really getting pumped up for tomorrow.’

Demong is also no Olympic rookie as he’s competing in his third Games (1998, 2002, 2006). He was a member of the team that posted a U.S.-best fourth-place finish in ’02. No surprise as Demong had a breakout season that included his first World Cup win and seven top-10 finishes.

‘Billy is a lot like Todd – very, very focused, like I’ve never seen before’ said Elden. ‘His results have been a bit up and down, but he has a good state of mind and is managing it well.’

Spillane was a teammate of both Lodwick and Demong at the ’98 and ’02 Olympics. He didn’t compete in ’98 but helped the United States gain its fourth-place finish in Utah.

‘Johnny really stepped it up today (in training)’ said Elden. ‘The smaller hill has never been his strength, but he’s got a good feel to it. He was sixth-longest on his first jump today. This will be an important event to get him ready for the team event and the sprint later in the Games.’

Camerota is getting his first major international championship start after competing primarily on the World Cup B tour. A three-time World Junior Championships qualifier, Camerota competed in his first World Cup event Jan. 29 in Seefeld, Austria, where he placed 28th in the individual.

‘He has been getting consistently better and better’ said Elden. ‘Brett has been really consistent on the jump hill this week to earn the final spot in the individual event.’

On the international front, three-time World Cup champion Hannu Manninen of Finland will be a favorite if he can jump like he did in Friday’s training. Manninen, usually stronger in the cross-country portion, jumped 103.0 m in his first and 103.5 m in his second.

Finland’s Jaakko Tallus, the ’02 silver medalist in the NH individual Gunderson, jumped 106.5 m on his second training launch Friday, the longest jump of the session.

The opening medal event of the ’06 Olympics gets under way with the first round of jumping at 11 a.m. with the final round scheduled for a 12:08 p.m. start. The 15 km begins at 3 p.m. A press conference will follow the event’s conclusion at 4:45 p.m.

- USSA

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