OBERHOF, Germany (Jan. 2) – Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) narrowly missed out on his sixth career World Cup podium Saturday in Oberhof, Germany, falling from second to fourth with 200 meters to go after he led at 8.6K and was on the heels of the eventual winner Hannu Manninen of Finland.
“For sure I’m kinda getting ticked at getting fourth, but it was another good event,” Spillane said. “I came into this year without too high an expectation.”
It was the fifth time in the last six events that the 2003 World Champion finished in the top 10. Just 10 days ago he triumphed in the Olympic Trials in Steamboat Springs, showing signs that he is more than fully recovered from knee surgeries last summer and fall.
“I’ve had quite a few injuries, but I’ve been able to train through a lot of them,” Spillane said. The latest knee injury, however, kept him off the track for 10 weeks, and he thinks he might have benefited from the extra rest – particularly with the Olympics looming.
“I really wasn’t able to do anything but rest and rehab,” he said.
“Certainly we will trade every fourth for a medal in February,” said U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett of Spillane, who has three fourths this season. “He, and Billy [Demong, Vermontville, NY], both of them, put themselves in position to win. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Demong took eighth after flirting with the lead pack in the latter stages of the race.
The 29-year-old Spillane, on the verge of his fourth Olympics, sat seventh after the jump, starting 23 seconds back in his bid for his first top-3 finish since 2007.
“For me, if I can be within 25, 30 seconds of the leader, I’m in good shape,” Spillane said.
Spillane began the cross country portion in a large pack chasing France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis, who exchanged leads with Germany’s Tino Edelmann through four kilometers, when the pack began to close on them.
Spillane and Finland’s Manninen – who began the race a spot behind Spillane – battled for first at 6K, with Lamy Chappuis still in the mix. Austria’s Felix Gottwald worked his way into the lead group after beginning 1:11 behind jump leader Lamy Chappuis.
At seven kilometers, there were 11 skiers within five seconds of the leader, which became Spillane at 8.6K.
With 200 meters to go, Manninen sprinted ahead for the win, while Spillane was edged out by Gottwald and Lamy Chappuis, finishing 6.8 seconds back.
“He couldn’t drop those guys, and they finished a little better,” Jarrett said. “He’d been kicking a little bit early, trying to drop them.”
The chase group was too big, and there were two many wolves on the scent.
“When people are chasing you, they’re skiing differently,” he said. “There’s definitely some tactics involved.”
Spillane said he fell short more because of tactical errors than physical issues, “which is a good thing.”
“I think I’m just trying a little too hard a little too early on the last lap,” he said.
Demong was just five seconds out at six kilometers and held on to a fast pace to finish eighth.
Just 19, Taylor Fletcher finished 31st, right outside the points, for his best-ever finish in just his third World Cup event.
“He represents the future of the program for sure,” Jarrett said.
There’s one more event on the docket Sunday in Oberof. Next weekend the team will travel to Italy for two events in Val di Fiemme.