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Spillane's Victory Is a First

March 01, 2003|From Associated Press

VAL DI FIEMME, Italy — Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs, Colo., became the first American skier to win a gold medal at the Nordic world championships, drawing inspiration from a diabetic teammate's strong performance a week earlier.

Spillane won the Nordic combined sprint Friday to give the United States its first world championship medal since cross-country skiing pioneer Bill Koch earned a bronze in 1982.

Spillane was followed by Ronny Ackermann of Germany and Felix Gottwald of Austria. He erased a 28-second deficit at the start of the cross-country sprint, moved into a tie for fourth place and broke away from the leading group in the final meters.

"I just wanted to go out there and lay it on the line," Spillane said. "I knew there was a chance of a medal, but I wasn't expecting victory."

Spillane was buoyed by Kris Freeman's fourth-place finish in a 15-kilometer race last Saturday. Freeman is a diabetic who recently overcame a painful muscular condition.

Spillane followed his ski jump of 124 meters with a strong effort in the sprint and defeated Ackermann and Gottwald by 1.3 seconds.

In other events, Olga Savialova and Elena Burukina of Russia finished 1-2 in the 30-kilometer freestyle cross-country race and Adam Malysz of Poland retained his normal-hill ski jumping title.

Savialova was timed in 1 hour 14 minutes 29.8 seconds -- 15.3 seconds faster than Burukina. In the ski jump, Malysz earned 279 points with jumps of 104 and 107.5 meters.

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