The most successful group of nordic athletes the US has ever seen? Unquestionably. With a grand total of nine individual Olympic and World Championship medals the trio of Billy Demong, Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick have more hardware than all other US cross-country, nordic combined and biathlon athletes combined.
With the World Cup season coming to a close in Lahti, Finland two weeks ago, the questions have begun – is the band breaking up?
The answer is not clear at this point. Before the 2011 season started, Demong committed through the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, backing off a bit for this year in order to recharge his batteries.
Lodwick and Spillane, on the other hand, were uncertain, but following the large hill individual competition at World Championships, Lodwick told FasterSkier that he was in through Sochi as well, leaving only Spillane to make up his mind.
While all three pushed through sub-par seasons for various reasons, in many ways, it was Spillane who had the toughest time of it. The 11-year World Cup veteran suffered a knee injury this summer tearing his ACL and MCL cliff-jumping in Lake Placid.
It was a long road back to full strength, and he struggled to regain his top jumping form. At World Championships in Oslo, Spillane was never in contention for the medals after the jumping portion of the competitions, a far cry from a year ago when he won three silvers at the Olympics.
“I haven’t really made a firm decision,” Spillane told FasterSkier in a phone interview earlier this week. “I still have a desire to keep skiing so it’s a hard decision to make, that’s for sure.”
Spillane is going to take his time, not wanting to rush into anything.
“I’ll make the decision when it seems like the right time. At this point I would say two months,” Spillane said.
He will continue to train as if he will compete next season as he ponders his future.
The 30-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colorado has six World Cup podiums in addition to his two Olympic medals and World Championship gold.
“I’m obviously happy with what I’ve done,” Spillane said, but notes that “there’s still a lot more that can be done.”
If it seems like Spillane has been around for a long time, you just need to peruse Lodwick’s resume for a bit of perspective. His first World Cup start came back in 1995, and he is competed in an impressive five Olympic Games – and now number six is in his sights.
Lodwick will be 37 in Sochi, an unusually high age for an Olympic athlete, let alone a medal contender, a fact that is not lost on the man himself.
“I think that is kind of a story in itself,” Lodwick said just minutes after finishing fifth in the final individual competition at World Championships, a race he termed “the best of my season”. He continued “It is pretty cool for a 37-year old to go to his sixth Olympic Games – it is something. ”
In 1997, Lodwick competed with current US Nordic Combined coach Dave Jarrett in the team competition at the Trondheim World Championships. Four years later, he teamed up with Spillane and Demong for the first time in a World Cup team event.
The race was a three by five kilometer relay and the US placed fifth, less than a minute out of the win. A year later at the Salt Lake Olympics, the three men were joined by Matt Dayton, and placed fourth in the team event, a minute off the podium. It would take eight years to make up that time, and in Vancouver the US took silver in the team comp.
If Spillane does opt for retirement, it does not mean the end of US medal chances. Demong and Lodwick should continue to challenge in individual races, and with the emergence of Bryan Fletcher and brother Taylor, the four-man relay squad holds promise.
And if Brett Camerota can bounce back from a rough season, the depth is even more impressive.
The big-three, however, each with either a World Championship or Olympic gold, are missing the top prize in the team event. They were foiled by bad skis in Vacnouver, and while in the hunt for the podium after the first leg in Oslo, they quickly fell off the pace.
Lodwick is ready for more, even after 16 years on the World Cup and the “most hectic and frustrating” year of his career.
“I don’t do this for the money. I do it to feel good,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I do it to look good in the mirror.”
He continued more seriously “It’s something. It’s a lifestyle. We are surrounded by a lot of great people. For some reason I like punishing myself. I just love the sport.”
Nat Herz contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.