PARK CITY, Utah -- Talent and consistency help explain why Todd Lodwick just qualified for his sixth U.S. Olympic team at age 37, but he is quick to point out that there's more to that achievement, which he called "daunting and humbling.''
Lodwick snagged the lone ticket to Sochi that was on the table Saturday at the Olympic trials, literally jumping out to an insurmountable lead in the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined competition. His 95.5-meter jump, which earned a score of 125 points for distance and style, put him atop the field of 10 men and enabled him to start the afternoon's 10-kilometer cross-country race 36 seconds ahead of the next closest man, defending Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong.
Bryan Fletcher, starting 52 seconds behind Lodwick, was able to catch Demong but couldn't carve enough off Lodwick's time to threaten him on a sunny, windy day at the Utah Olympic Park and finished 17 seconds back.
If Lodwick goes on to compete in Sochi, he will become the first American athlete to participate in six Winter Games -- two more than he thought he had in him when he left the sport for two seasons. Much of the reason for his longevity has to do with the steadily improving cast around him over the last two decades in a sport that was once an afterthought in this country.
Lodwick was part of the silver-medal winning U.S. team in Vancouver four years ago, where Johnny Spillane also won two individual silver medals to add to Demong's gold. Spillane has since retired, but Demong, Bryan Fletcher and his brother Taylor Fletcher, and several younger athletes have continued to push Lodwick. He credited that quality and internal competition for keeping him motivated.
"Today, everyone was out there for themselves, but in the end I need these guys,'' Lodwick said. He added he was confident he would have made the team -- at least three and possibly four other spots will be determined by World Cup results -- but is glad to be free of the formal pressure so he can concentrate on performance.
Dave Jarrett, once Lodwick's teammate and now the head coach for the Nordic Combined program, said his chief job now is to help Lodwick stoke his hunger for "the only thing he doesn't have in his trophy case" -- an individual Olympic medal. Lodwick was a world junior champion and has won six World Cups, two gold medals at the 2009 world championships and just missed the podium in the normal hill/10K event at the 2010 Olympics.
"Todd has spanned the generations and a lot of what Johnny and Billy and now the Fletchers have done -- he was a big part of that, starting in the '90s,'' Jarrett said. "It's good for him to have a carrot to chase. He did a great competition today, and I hope he has the desire he had in 2010 to win an individual medal.''