U.S. Team Aims for Breakthrough at Nordic

U.S. Team Aims for Breakthrough at Nordic{mosimage}OBERSTDORF, Germany (AP) _ Johnny Spillane ended the U.S. Nordic ski team’s gold-medal drought at the 2003 world championships. Now, this young squad wants more.

The 2005 worlds open Thursday and the United States is looking to build on Spillane’s victory in Italy, the first by Americans at an Olympics or world championships.

“Our goal is to win two medals. We hope we can win three, including the team event,” said Luke Bodensteiner, the U.S. team’s Nordic director.

The two-week event also encompasses ski jumping and cross-country skiing. American medal hopes, however, rest on the three Nordic combined events. Spillane and Todd Lodwick, third in the World Cup standings, are the leading candidates.

Bodensteiner would love to see a strong performance in the 20-kilometer relay. Until recently, he couldn’t find a worthy fourth competitor.

“To have the team on the podium would be the most special medal for us,” Bodensteiner said.

The team thinks it is finally deep enough to push for a medal in the relay, another sign it is growing competitive against the Europeans.

“It’s a bright young team,” said Lodwick, who at 28 is four years older than any other relay teammate.

Bodensteiner echoed Lodwick’s sentiment about the squad, which includes Bill Demong, Eric Camerota and Carl Van Loan.

“These guys work together so well as a team but they’re also pushing each other to do better,” he said. “With Todd and Johnny out front, it’s a tremendous group that’s only going to get better.”

There is no guarantee the Americans can win even one medal. Finland’s Hannu Manninen and Germany’s Ronny Ackerman are big favorites in the individual races, the 15K and 7 1/2K sprint. The duo has combined to win almost every World Cup this season, but Lodwick is not willing to cede the gold and silver to them.

“Not if they’re jumping bad or skiing slow,” Lodwick said. “This is the world championships, you never know what will happen.”

Lodwick, winner of six World Cups, also will be tested by Austria’s Felix Gottwald, his rival all year.

Spillane has yet to win since his world championship gold in Val di Fiemme, but he’s come on strong since shaking off injuries, finishing third in May at Trondheim, Norway.

Bodensteiner suspects Spillane would need a perfect day to baffle the competition again.

“That race in Val di Fiemme was extraordinary for him and us _ it all came together,” Bodensteiner said. “He will need another day like that.”

– The Associated Press

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