There was no denying a fast moving German train in the opening World Championship nordic combined event Saturday. But an impressive cross country showing by US Ski Team member Billy Demong led all five Americans into the top 30 at Holmenkollen in Oslo. Demong won the cross country leg and led the USA in seventh overall, one spot ahead of teammate Todd Lodwick, the defending champion in the event.
Athletes wove their way through thick fog on the Midstubakken jump and the Holmenkollen cross country stadium. Spectators could barely see the big screen TV, much less the athletes on course.
Photo: US Ski Team
There was no touching the Germans – not even World Cup leader Jason Lamy Chappuis would come close. Eric Frenzel put down a 109.0 meter jump to take a commanding position into cross country. His teammate Tino Edelmann was close behind. The only question was if they could hold off Austrian Felix Gottwald, which they did. It was the first gold medal for Germany since 2007.
With Demong 29th – 1:43 back at the start – and Lodwick 16th, the strategy of the veterans was to pace themselves in the first half of the race before starting to pick up the tempo in the second half. The plan worked as well as it could, but hitting medals range was too much of a stretch.
Young Bryan Fletcher paced the USA on the jumps, finishing 10th. But in the cross country race, Demong was on a mission. He paced himself out of the start. And as the race went on, he began picking off places – much like he did in the normal hill event at Vancouver a year ago. In the end, he moved up 22 spots to lead the USA but still 28 seconds out of the medals.
“It was a lot like the opening event at Vancouver,” said Demong. “But it was crazy – at times I had no idea where I stood.”
“We certainly came here to win medals so that part is disappointing,” said Head Coach Dave Jarrett. “We had a good streak going and now it’s over and we need to look ahead to the next event.”
“I started jumping better this week but today was obviously not as good as the last few days,” said Demong. “But it’s better than the average for my season so it’s hard to be really disappointed. In the race I just went out to see if I could get the fastest time after having a disappointing jump. If nothing else, it’s given me confidence for the rest of the Championships. Now I just need to relax and get that jumping better.”
Lodwick also wasn’t thrilled with his jump, although he stood in a better position than Demong going into cross country.
Lodwick ran the 10th fastest cross country leg, while teammate Johnny Spillane was sixth. “The guys in the wax room did a hell of a job,” said Lodwick. “It makes us feel really good when we get on the course to know what we have on our feet is the best we can do and they definitely did a good job today.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in my jumping – I proved it in training,” said Lodwick. “But it was just one of those days where I felt just a little bit off going into the jump hill. I was really nervous last night – I guess from high expectations. But I just let it go in the cross country. I really surprised myself – it was probably my best race of the year cross country-wise.”
Jarrett echoed the kudos to the waxing team, but also pointed out what a dangerous combination that would be with just a few more meters on the jumping hill. “With the points system, another five meters could add up to a minute in cross country. That would have made a big difference today.”
Bryan Fletcher made another step in his year of progress taking 10th on jumping but falling back on the last few laps after his goggles fogged up in the high humidity.
“I was pretty stoked with my jump,” said Fletcher. “I was able to put together a really solid jump for me which was kind of surprising considering there were so many long jumps in the last round. At the start of the race I felt pretty good. I was pretty solid in the top 10 for the first two laps. It’s a little bit frustrating that I fell back as much as I did. But my goal was top 30 in World Championships so this makes me pretty happy. I’m looking forward to the next event.”
Combined is back in action Monday with the team event on the normal hill. The U.S. Ski Team will go with a team of Demong, Lodwick, Spillane and Bryan Fletcher.
Gold: Eric Frenzel, Germany (1, 19) 25:19.2
Silver: Tino Edelmann, Germany (6, 7) +11.9
Bronze: Felix Gottwald, Austria (15, 2) +18.4
7. Billy Demong, Vermontville, NY (29, 1) +46.2
8. Todd Lodwick, Steamboat Springs, CO (16, 10) +46.9
19. Johnny Spillane, Steamboat Springs, CO (34, 6) +1:32.3
22. Bryan Fletcher, Steamboat Springs, CO (10, 31) +1:49.8
26. Taylor Fletcher, Steamboat Springs, CO (39, 17) +2:15.1
For complete results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/610.html?sector=NK&raceid=1468