OSLO, Norway The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, including Vermontville native Billy Demong, came very close to the medals today but not close enough, finishing fourth just 14 seconds out of the bronze at the 2011 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at Holmenkollen in Oslo.
Austria took a dramatic gold over Germany, with Norway winning bronze.
With a strong cross-country ski lineup, the USA needed to just stay in reasonable striking range after the jumps on the 106-meter Midstubakken normal hill. But the one-minute, eight-second deficit proved to be just too much.
"It was a good day but not quite good enough," said Head Coach Dave Jarrett. "We were hoping for medals, but we put ourselves in a position to fight for medals, and that's all you can ask. In the end, we came up short. But it's still good and something to be proud of. The service guys did a good job, and the boys jumped well and skied well.
"But you have to take your hats off to the top three teams," he added. "They were better, and we have to keep working hard, and we know the results will be there."
In the jump, Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) opened short at 93.0 meters. Demong went 100.5 in the second group with Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs), in his first World Championships, going 101.5. Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs) wrapped it up with a 100.0 meter ride.
FIS Nordic World Ski Championships
Oslo, Norway Feb. 28, 2011
Gold: Austria (David Kreiner, Bernhard Gruber, Felix Gottwald, Mario Stecher), 48:07.8
Silver: Germany (Johannes Rydzek, Eric Frenzel, Bjoern Kircheisen, Tino Edelmann), 48:08.2
Bronze: Norway (Mikko Kokslien, Haavard Klemetsen, Jan Schimd, Magnus Moan), 48:48.4
4. USA (Billy Demong, Bryan Fletcher, Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick), 49:02.6
The jumps put the USA fifth, 1:08 behind France. The strategy in cross country was to send Demong out first to close the gap.
"We talked after the jumping, and obviously we had a little bit of time to make up," said Demong, "So we kind of frontloaded, and Todd is good at finishing. All in all, fourth place is still in there considering we've got guys coming back from injury and breaks."
Demong was successful at seriously eating into the deficit. The Olympic large hill champion cut the margin all the way down to 29.6 seconds behind Germany with the fastest cross-country leg of the day.
Fletcher took the pass and was up against Austria's Bernhard Gruber. The rookie matched Gruber stride for stride through the first lap and into the second, rapidly closing the gap on third-place France.
"Bill did a great job of catching up to the Austrians, and I went out with a goal of just hanging with them and trying to move up to France," said Fletcher. "I went out and the pace felt pretty easy, and I could put in some effort to reel in France. Then Gruber just took off like an animal, and I just didn't have it."
On the second of two laps, Fletcher led Gruber on a short herringbone uphill, chasing France's Sebastian Lacroix. They came within two ski lengths before the Frenchman took off. As the lap wore on, Gruber hit a new gear. He took off from Fletcher, attacking Lacroix and moving into bronze position just 19 seconds off the lead.
His countryman Felix Gottwald was also up to the task on the third leg, crushing the field and moving Austria into the lead as Spillane moved the USA up past France and into fourth. But as Spillane handed off to Lodwick, there was still a minute off the lead and 37 seconds out of the medals. Despite Lodwick skiing the fastest anchor leg and Norway's Magnus Moan fading in the final lap, the defending World Champion Lodwick couldn't quite close the gap enough, finishing 14 seconds out of bronze.
"It's bittersweet," said Demong reflecting on a strong U.S. performance that just wasn't quite enough. "We could medal, but at the same time we're still doing well. The impressive thing today is that we jumped better as a team. And Bryan just went for it. He led the Austrian who just took him at the end of the race. We're growing the depth of our team."
"I think everyone can be satisfied with what they did today," said Spillane, who is returning from a knee injury. "It wasn't as good as what we're capable of, but overall it was a pretty good day. Fourth place is always a little bit tough, but everybody did a good job."
The nordic combined action now shifts to the towering 134-meter Holmenkollbakken with the big hill team event set for Wednesday.