Saturday, February 25, 2006
Pragelato, Italy For more than 12 years, Todd Lodwick has refused to let the U.S. Nordic combined team fail.
"We can all be struggling, and Todd is the guy who can wake up in the morning, get pissed off and go out and kick some butt," teammate Bill Demong said. "I realize that it is time for one of us, or both of us, or all of us, to step up and do that for ourselves."
Although Lodwick was disappointed he didn't make the podium in Pragelato in 2006, his two top-10 finishes were the best American finishes. Demong was 15th in the individual Gundersen event, and Johnny Spillane placed 10th in the sprint.
But the team's weaknesses were exposed in the team event. The Amer--ican's placed seventh out of nine teams. It was a huge disappointment after finishing fourth in Salt Lake City in 2002.
As the team moves past the Olympic Games, one of the most frequently asked questions is, "How will it respond when Lodwick leaves after Holmenkollen?"
Lodwick plans to make a final trip to Lahti, Finland, and continue on to Norway for his last appearance in Holmenkollen, but he will not make the grueling trip to Sapporo, Japan, for the final event of the 2006 World Cup season. His Holmenkollen appearance will mark the end of a era for Nordic combined skiing in the United States.
His exit will leave the team without its most consistent skier for the first time in more than a decade and will require veterans such as Spillane and Demong to fill the gap -- and do it quickly.
"These other guys want to win just as badly as Todd does," assistant coach Dave Jarrett said. "For sure, we are going to miss him, but the world is going to keep spinning, and we have to keep moving on to the next thing."
Lodwick's departure will not be the only change for the U.S. team. Jarrett also said longtime coach Bard Elden is expected to return to his home near Trondheim, Norway, at the end of this season. Elden has been with the team for eight years, the past four as the team's head coach.
Elden "is going to leave a big hole that's going to be hard to fill on the coaching side, like the hole Todd is going to leave on the athletes side," Jarrett said.
The team also lost a veteran when Jed Hinkley announced his retirement at the U.S. National Championships, in Steamboat Springs in January 2005. The team also will have to face budget questions as it looks toward the next Winter Olympic Games, in Canada in 2010.
There is no doubt that this team is going to have to answer more than a few questions, but veterans such as Demong think there is more than enough talent to survive the transition. He knows what Spillane and Alex Glueck are capable of accomplishing, and he can see the potential in younger skiers such as Brett and Eric Camerota. Jarrett also will be looking to a group of talented skiers in Steamboat that will be vying for a place on the team in the next few years.
"We are changing gears here. I think there are some kids that have shown they can do it on the jump hill, some that have shown they can do it in cross-country," Demong said. "Now it's time to take them under our wing and start to build a team. We all want to keep the kind of tradition that started in Steamboat 15 years ago with Todd."
Spillane is hoping that younger skiers will help create a competitive atmosphere that will continue to push the American team.
"To create that kind of competitive environment within the team is what we are going to have to do compete and be successful," Spillane said. "That, and maybe a few more trips to Europe in the summer."
Spillane said the team has been training without Lodwick in the summers, so he doesn't think Lodwick's departure will be felt immediately. He thinks Lodwick's absence will be most noticeable next winter, when the team returns to the World Cup circuit.
"There is always a time when people are ready to move on," Spillane said. "It's Todd's decision to make, and we all wish him the best. He taught me how to be a good competitor. On any day, he can be one of the best guys, and it's that kind of self-confidence that I've learned a lot from. I've learned don't ever count yourself out."