After just missing the medals in the first two competitions at the 2011 World Championships, an American-born athlete was back on top of the nordic combined podium on Wednesday.
Billy Demong? Nope. Todd Lodwick? Guess again. Maybe Johnny Spillane? Or the two flying Fletcher brothers, Bryan and Taylor? No, no, and no.
Instead, it was Jason Lamy Chappuis, a French citizen born in Montana, who took the win in the individual large hill competition in Oslo.
Lodwick ended up fifth, 30 seconds off the podium, while Demong, the defending champion, was sixth, another 10 seconds back. The two were impressive on their skis, with the sixth and second-fastest course times, respectively, but couldn’t overcome jumps that were merely average.
“I guess that was what I could do today,” Demong said.
In the individual large hill competition, the athletes each get one shot to launch themselves as far as possible off Oslo’s massive Holmenkollbakken—the iconic jump that just underwent a 300-million-dollar remodeling.
The Holmenkollbakken normally cuts an impressive, sweeping form that interrupts the Oslo skyline, but during the competition on Wednesday morning, there was no skyline whatsoever, with an impenetrable fog limiting visibility to around 50 meters.
For the athletes, the weather seemed like it should have presented an insurmountable challenge. But for these guys,
who were regularly hitting the take-off at speeds upwards of fifty miles an hour and flying farther than the length of a football field, it wasn’t a big deal.
“It can be a little intimidating, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” said Wesley Savill, one of the Canadian competitors.
In fact, Demong said the conditions were challenging, but his gripe wasn’t about the visibility. Instead, his complaint was that the jump’s ramp was running slowly on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to go far,” he said.
After spending the morning on the Holmenkollbakken, the athletes moved to the cross-country stadium next door, where the results from the jump were used to handicap the start of a 10-kilometer cross-country ski race.
Out of the five Americans in the event, Lodwick and Demong had the two best jumps—in a 56-man field, the former was 12th, and the latter 20th. Decent, but not quite of the caliber that got Demong the gold in the same event in 2009.
Still, the Americans are among the best skiers on the nordic combined circuit, and as soon as the race started, they began working their way up through the field.
Demong ended up with the second-fastest cross-country time, though it was hard to tell what was happening in the fog.
“It’s easy, when you’re skiing fast, to be motivated by catching people,” he said. “But I couldn’t see more than eight seconds in front of me.”
He caught 14 of the 19 men who started before him, and by the last of four 2.5-kilometer laps, he had managed to close the gap to Lodwick as well. But Lodwick had a little more left, and accelerated to ultimately leave Demong 10 seconds adrift at the finish.
Lodwick said the fifth place was his “best result of the season” so far, which was gratifying after fighting illness and asthma for the last six months.
“I have two kids at home, and they bring stuff home from day care, and it’s just really been an uphill battle,” he said. “I finally feel like I can go out, and I can pace myself, and breath and feel power. And I think today showed it.”
At the front of the race, Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen had started first after a mammoth jump. But despite the exhortations of the home crowd, he was quickly reeled in by Lamy Chappuis, as well as two Germans, Joannes Rydzek and Eric Frenzel, who had started fifth and sixth.
Lamy Chappuis had a 30-second advantage on the two Germans, and was able to cruise to the win without being truly tested. It was a gratifying win for the Frenchman, who had missed the podium in the first individual race in Oslo despite dominating the World Cup circuit this year.
“I am so glad to be back,” he said in a press release from the organizers. “My self-confidence wasn’t so good after the first competition, but now it feels great.”
The Americans, meanwhile, have one more chance for a podium at Worlds in Friday’s team competition—the second one of the championships. In the first team event, held on the smaller hill on Monday, the Americans were fourth.
It shows just how far the U.S. program has come that anything less than hardware feels like a bit of a letdown, even though Lodwick said that he was “very satisfied” with his result.
The Americans need slightly better performances in the jump if they want to content for medals, but as Demong put it, the team is “getting closer.”
“Maybe too little too late for this year, but pretty fired up for next year—and years beyond,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.