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WINTER SPORTS

Americans could be setting the tone for the Olympics

Their performances at world championships give U.S. officials reason to be optimistic for the 2010 Games.

February 23, 2009|Philip Hersh

Could what U.S. winter sports athletes did over the weekend be a preview of a year from now, during what would be the middle weekend of the 2010 Winter Olympics?

If so, U.S. Olympic team officials will be breaking out the champagne.

Which is fine, as long as they don't let Lindsey Vonn open it.

And Vonn seems likely to have reasons for celebration, especially given the results in her first three Alpine World Cup races after surgery to repair a thumb tendon slashed by a jagged bottle of bubbly after she won a second world title in France two weeks ago.

So do the U.S. athletes who won world championship medals in bobsled and Nordic combined the last three days.

Over that span, Vonn had a second, a second and a first, the last giving her 19 World Cup wins, most ever by a U.S. woman. Her victory in Sunday's super-giant slalom broke a tie with Tamara McKinney.

Such stuff is getting fairly predictable for Vonn, even if she modestly said, "I never thought it was possible to pass a legend like Tamara."

Who would have dared imagine a U.S. team atop the gold-medal table (three) and tied with Norway in overall medals (four) almost halfway through a Nordic skiing world championships?

Or that Todd Lodwick, who still wondered four days ago whether he would ever win a world or Olympic medal, could be two for two in Nordic combined gold medals?

That is the situation after Sunday at the Nordic world championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, when Lodwick and Bill Demong were 1-3 in the combined small-hill event. Lindsey Van won the other gold, in Friday's world meet debut of women's jumping.

"I think the most important thing about today, and probably the coolest, is that I am able to share this podium with a teammate," Lodwick said.

On this side of the pond, U.S. teams have taken advantage of home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., to win medals in the first two world sledding championship events, two-man (bronze) and two-woman (silver) bobsled. And both drivers, Steve Holcomb and Shauna Rohbock, recently won medals in the test event on the 2010 Olympic course in Whistler, Canada.

But never has a U.S. team won more than one medal in a Nordic world championships -- cross-country, ski jumping and combined, which includes both.

U.S. medal total in all previous Nordic world championships combined? Four.

While it is highly improbable the U.S. will be in such a lofty position when the championships end next weekend, Lodwick and Demong are medal contenders in the final two combined events: large hill and team.

Lodwick's Sunday win was more significant than Friday's in the mass start competition, since the small-hill event is on the Winter Olympics program.

The 32-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colo., won the jumping phase and took third in the cross-country.

The U.S. Nordic combined team has been doing well for several seasons on the World Cup circuit, and Demong (silver, 2007) and Johnny Spillane (gold, 2003) won medals in recent editions of the biennial world meet.

Now these veteran athletes (Lodwick is a four-time Olympian; Demong, three; Spillane, two) could break the medal ice at the Olympics, where the best previous U.S. finish in Nordic combined is fourth in the team event in 2002.

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phersh@tribune.com

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