Second chances are few and far between in professional sports, but with the International Ski Federation adding a second Nordic Combined Team event to the 2011 World Championships, Germany had just that.
After taking the silver in the first team competition on Monday, Germany extended an impressive streak of five straight World Championships finishing second. The extra opportunity would not change the results however, and the Germans once again came up short, this time by no more than two feet.
Austrian Mario Stecher outsprinted Germany’s Tino Edelman to claim gold, while Magnus Moan brought Norway the bronze, forty seconds down.
The US team, fifth after the jumping was unable to move up in the 4x5km race, dropping one spot when Japan came by with less than half a kilometer to the finish.
France, riding a strong jumping performance, headed out first, 32 seconds ahead of Germany. Austria was just behind in third and Norway in fourth.
The French have two strong skiers Sebastian Lacroix and Jason Lamy Chapuis, but have had trouble putting four strong legs together. That was the case today as Lacroix skied well over the first five kilometers, holding most of the lead on Austria and all of it on Germany.
Norway, running their strongest skier, Mikko Kokslien, closed to within 18 seconds at the first exchange.
The US employed the same strategy as earlier in the week, going with Billy Demong on the opening leg in the hopes of catching Austria and Germany. The plan worked on Monday, but this time around, Demong was unable to make contact.
In posting the second fastest split, behind only Kokslien, he did take 24 seconds out of Germany and nine out of Austria. But with Bryan Fletcher taking over, the US was in trouble.
Fletcher has had an excellent season, raising his jumping to a new level, but he is not yet at the top level on the track. It was quickly apparent that this was not going to be a medal day for the US.
Early in the second leg, Norway, Germany and Austria came together and set about tracking down leading France.
Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen couldn’t handle the pace, and at 3k in to his leg, lost contact with Austria and Germany.
Those two teams quickly ate up France, spitting Maxime Laheurte out the back. Klemetsen also ran down Laheurte, and France, like the US was quickly headed out of contention.
Francois Braud took over for the French and started fast, closing the gap on Norway’s Jan Schmid. That was as good as it was going to get for France, and Braud eventually faltered on the last large climb.
Meanwhile, at the front, Austria’s Felix Gottwald set the pace with individual World Champion Erik Frenzel hot on his heels. Gottwald attacked hard on the big climb featured on the cross-country sprint course and earned a small gap. But Frenzel closed back up coming into the stadium and the two tagged off neck and neck.
Johnny Spillane continued to lose ground for the US, turning in a serviceable leg, but the need was for something spectacular.
Veterans Tino Edelman and Mario Stecher handled anchor duties for Germany and Austria respectively. Edelman drove the pace early – there was no time for cat and mouse as Mr Moustachio himself, Magnus Moan of Norway, was once again on the prowl.
In the first team comp, Moan made a huge charge, closing almost all the way on Austria and Germany in the anchor leg, before fading. This time he started at a more reasonable pace, but was still taking time out of the leaders.
Halfway through his five kilometers, Moan had the gap down to just 13 seconds, an improvement of 15 over 2.5k. But once again he couldn’t keep it up, and slowly drifted back to a firm grip on the bronze.
Edelman and Stecher pushed the pace on the sprint hill, but neither could get free and the pace dropped into the stadium. Up the final climb and into the high flat behind the stands, both men came almost to a stop, both recognizing the disadvantage of leading into the homestretch.
Edelman finally went, breaking hard into the downhill. The two men flew into the last 100 meters, dead even. Almost imperceptibly, Stecher inched ahead. Edelman threw a textbook lunge at the line, but it wasn’t enough. The official called for a photo finish, but it was clear that Austria had triumphed again.
Moan came across 40 seconds later to give Norway the bronze.
The standings were identical to Monday’s event, though in that race the Austrians went with Gottwald in the anchor position. Either way the result was the same.
“We had a 50/50 chance of wining today, and I am really happy that we made it,” Stecher said. “Before this championship I did not believe that we should win two golds.”
Todd Lodwick brought the US home in fourth, not bothering to respond to a late attack by Japan’s Norihito Kobayashi who had tracked down the American earlier.
A World Champion in 2009, Lodwick showboated down the homestretch, waving to the crowd, and breaking into a classical stride for the last 30 meters.
“We were just behind the medals again, but a solid day. In the future it’s going to be about being in a little bit better jumping shape coming in and giving ourselves a little bit better starting position to fight,” Demong said after the race.
The event marked the end of Nordic Combined competitions at the 2011 World Championships.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.