Three world champs headline U.S. Nordic combined team
Todd Lodwick is the third American to ever make five Winter Olympics, headlining a powerful U.S. Nordic combined team that includes fellow world champions Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane.
The 33-year-old Lodwick, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., matched bobsledder Brian Shimer and Mark Grimmette in luge for most Olympic Games appearances by an American winter sports athlete when the five-member team was announced Thursday.
Most intriguing of all are the other members of the team: Brett Camerota, of Park City, Utah, and Taylor Fletcher, of Steamboat Springs.
Head coach Dave Jarrett said Camerota and Fletcher, the only member of the team making his Olympic debut, will face off for the right to compete as the fourth American in the two individual competitions and the one four-man team event.
Lodwick, Spillane and Demong make up the “Big Three” American athletes who have followed up their breakthroughs at last year’s world championships with more triumphs on the World Cup circuit this winter.
Once hopelessly behind the Germans, Austrians, Russians, Norwegians and Finns, the U.S. Nordic combined ski team is now considered a favorite for the podium next month.
“This is a group of proven champions that has come together after many years of working together as a team,” U.S. Nordic director John Farra said.
That’s why the fourth spot on the team is so vitally important.
Camerota and Fletcher have each cracked into the World Cup points this season. Camerota was 18th in Ramsau, Austria, in mid-December, and Fletcher scored his first career points earlier this month to clinch a fifth quota spot for the U.S. team.
Lodwick, who came out of retirement and led last year’s stunning successes at the world championships, has been to every Winter Games since 1994. He skied an abbreviated schedule this season but had podium finishes in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and Chaux-Neuve, France, and was in the top six in all but one of his seven World Cups.
Spillane, the 2003 world champion, is enjoying the strongest season of his career. Last month, he beat Lodwick and Demong on their home course in Steamboat Springs to win the Olympic trials, and he followed that up with his first career World Cup win this month.
Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y., also has had a strong season, earning a win at Val di Fiemme ahead of Lodwick.
The Americans’ best Olympic outing in the sport that combines ski jumping with cross-country skiing was a fourth-place finish at Salt Lake City in 2002, where the four-man team just missed out on a medal. Demong, Lodwick and Spillane were all on that team.
They regressed in Turin four years later, but have regrouped to become one of the strongest nations in the sport that the Europeans have long dominated.
The athletes will convene in Park City for a week in February before heading to Vancouver.