Todd Lodwick hadn’t felt nerves like he experienced last Saturday in a long time.
Seventeen years old at his first Olympics in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, Lodwick, now 37, was about to see if he could make his sixth Olympic team at the U.S. Nordic Combined 2014 trials on Dec. 28. If he came out on top of the individual 10-kilometer competition in Park City, he’d also make history as the first American to qualify for six Winter Olympics.
“That’s always on the mind, to break the record books,” Lodwick said on the phone Dec. 30. He was on a personal business trip in the south and planned to return to Steamboat Springs, Colo., Jan. 2 before leaving for Europe on Jan. 6.
Really, though, Lodwick wanted to prove again to himself and to everyone with an Olympic dream or any kind of lifelong aspirations, that it was possible.
“For me, I think it was that I’m one of the top athletes in the world and that I’m out there to win,” Lodwick said. “And to solidify the hard work that I’ve been putting in and know that I am still capable of some great things. That passion still burns hot inside of me and it’s something that I wanted to do.
“It’s not only my doing that got me here,” he said, crediting his sponsors, “teammates and coaches and family and friends that believe in me and believe in my whole journey.”
With some 5,000 people at Utah Olympic Park (UOP) watching him and nine others compete in the coveted Gold Cup trial, Lodwick posted the best jump of 95.5 meters, giving him a 36-second headstart on teammate Billy Demong in the 10 k, also at UOP in Park City.
Lodwick not only extended his gap on Demong, a four-time Olympian and 2010 Olympic gold medalist, on the four-lap course, but he held off teammate Bryan Fletcher — just as hungry for a guaranteed Olympic spot — by 17.3 seconds. Lodwick won the winner-takes-all competition in 25:27.6 to prequalify for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Fletcher placed second, and Demong was third, 56.1 seconds back.
Eighth in the jump, Taylor Fletcher rose to fourth, 23.4 seconds behind Demong. Adam Loomis of the U.S. Nordic Combined B-team was fifth and his teammates Brett Denney, Nick Hendrickson and Michael Ward placed sixth through eighth, respectively. Ben Berend (Steamboat Springs Winter Sports) finished ninth and teammate Tyler Smith was 10th.
“It feels pretty good,” Lodwick said two days after. “I put a lot of pressure on myself just like the rest of the athletes and knew that there was some big stuff on the line. … Going to these Games is something that’s always been on my mind since I started to pursue it. I knew it took a lot of hard work.”
He said he was able to do so because of teammates “that push me as hard as they do and coaches that support me.”
“If I touch one kid to help them achieve their dream, then I consider my career a success.” — Todd Lodwick, after winning U.S. Olympic trials to prequalify for 2014 Sochi Games
Lodwick became the first of potentially five U.S. Nordic Combined athletes to qualify for the Olympics. The rest of the team will be decided based off world rankings through Jan. 19, with a complete team naming set for Jan. 22.
As soon as he finished, Lodwick’s 8-year-old daughter ran up and gave him a huge hug.
“She’s probably one of my biggest supporters,” he said. “I’m doing it for my kids. For me [it’s to] show them that dad still has it and can still kick butt. With my son, he’s five and he has some special needs and providing for him is something that I care deeply about. We have a bond that is very special.”
His oldest understands what’s going on, and as she celebrated with him last Saturday, she enjoyed being in the limelight, just like her dad, Lodwick said.
“This being my last competition ever in the states, I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Lodwick said. “I was blown away by the volunteers and the setup crew, the people that dedicated so much time to putting on such an amazing event, and we all had a blast doing it. That was one of the best events that we’ve had in the states in a very, very long time.”
For Lodwick, it was the start of a pre-Olympic sendoff he can enjoy in the next month leading up to the Olympics. It also confirmed that he’s once again in the best shape of his life.
“Everyone [was] out there to compete at their best; a few of us had a victory in mind,” he said. “Bill, having it be his adopted home hill and home state, he was rested and training so I think he went into knowing he was the favorite.”
Bryan Fletcher has led the team this season on the World Cup, notching three individual top 10-results and a program-best fourth with Lodwick in the team sprint Dec. 14 in Ramsau, Austria.
The oldest guy on the team, Lodwick said this year will be his last, complete with two decades worth of Olympics and U.S. Ski Team experiences.
“I’m 37 years old and do I feel like I’m capable of going to another Olympic Games when I’m 41? Sure,” he said. “But I think I’m ready to move on.”
“I still believe in myself,” he said. “Dreams can come true if you work hard enough. … All this work isn’t for nothing and the time spent, sweating and wanting to throw up and legs cramping, looking back on that and knowing that I never gave up on my dream that lives in every single kid that watches on TV. If I touch one kid to help them achieve their dream, then I consider my career a success.”
And it doesn’t have to be sports related, he said.
“First step is to dream big and you have to do that to be successful,” Lodwick explained. “And you have to believe in yourself wholeheartedly.”
He proved that at 2009 World Championships, winning two individual golds, and setting his sights on the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. There, he won a silver medal in the 4 x 7.5 k team event. A year later at 2011 World Championships, he decided to commit to three more years and make a run for his sixth Olympics.
One of the biggest difference-makers over the years has been the growth and success of the U.S. Nordic Combined team, he said. Last February at 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, Lodwick, Demong, and the Fletcher brothers earned America’s first medal (bronze) in the team event.
“I can’t thank Dave Jarrett enough,” Lodwick said. “He has made … sure that we are the best in the world. We started believing in ourselves and came together as a team. Going into these Games we’re going to feed off the inspiration that we had in 2010 and the success we had at World Championships. We rise to the occasion more often than not and surprise the heck out of people.”
The U.S. Olympic quota is currently four, but they’re hoping to take five men to the Games if they can get five to rank in the World Cup top 50. Before the Olympic trials last month, Demong won two Continental Cup competitions in Park City to secure the team’s fifth World Cup quota spot, allowing them to bring another man over to Europe and try to score some World Cup points.
“We rise to the occasion more often than not and surprise the heck out of people.” — Lodwick
A couple U.S. Ski Team members are in Chaikovskiy, Russia, this weekend competing for those points, with Taylor Fletcher placing sixth and Denney finishing 32nd in Saturday’s normal hill/10 k.
Starting next weekend, Lodwick and the rest of the U.S. A-team will get back to the World Cup in Chaux Neuve, France, then Seefeld, Austria, before heading back to Park City for a two-week training block at altitude for the rest of January. On Feb. 1, they’ll head back to Europe for a brief jumping camp in Oberstdorf, Germany, before heading to Sochi on the sixth.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.