FILE UNDER -- Nordic

TORINO: NC: Disappointing opener for World Cup force Hannu Manninen

TORINO: NC: Disappointing opener for World Cup force Hannu Manninen{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Finland’s Hannu Manninen missed another chance for an individual medal, finishing a distant ninth in the nordic combined individual event.

Manninen, a three-time World Cup champion, started the 15-kilometer race in eighth place and was never able to catch Germany’s Georg Hettich, who won the gold medal.

”I hoped to be closer to the top,” said Manninen. ”The skiing didn’t feel normal, the course was sticky and I had trouble making up ground.”

It was a disappointing finish for Manninen, who is competing in his fourth Olympics but still doesn’t have an individual medal.

He has a gold medal from the team event in Salt Lake City but has struggled in individual competitions at the Olympics.

After two jumps on the normal hill left him 1 minute, 38 seconds behind Hettich, Manninen, whose strength is in the cross-country race, said he was confident he could catch the German skier. But he never got close.

When bronze-medal winner Magnus Moan of Norway passed him, he knew it would be difficult to get on the podium.

”I knew when Magnus passed me at the nine-kilometer mark that it would be difficult to catch the leaders,” said Manninen.

Manninen has won 11 World Cups this season but denied that his busy schedule cost him a medal.

”We had a two-week break so fatigue was not a factor,” added Manninen, who said this will probably be his last Olympics. ”The guys who won have all had busy seasons too.”

Moan said Manninen just had an off day.

”In the cross country, I had only one job, which was to close the gap on Hannu,” said Moan. ”The tactic was to lay behind Hannu and make him do the work, but he didn’t have the greatest day.”

Manninen will get another shot in the sprint competition Tuesday. He said he was still confident he’ll get that elusive individual medal.

”I’m confident,” said Manninen. ”First we have the team event and it’s important to focus on that, but I feel pretty good about my chances in the sprint.”

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