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Spillane ends United States 86-year drought
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Forsyth County News
“How do you boil up 86 years of frustration?”

That’s what Red Sox fans wondered back in 2004, when the beloved Olde Towne Team finally broke through to win the World Series.

There’s your perspective. That’s exactly how long the United States has sought an Olympic medal in Nordic events.

That’s why former US coach Tom Steitz posed the question to Arnie Stapleton of the Huffington Post. He really had no idea how to act.

“After 86 years of trying, we are actually legitimate,” Steitz declared. Then he proceeded to answer his own question about boiling up that frustration: “You don’t. Everybody starts crying. We are all going to sit around tonight and drink champagne and touch the medal!”

For the record, that medal, a silver, belongs to Johnny Spillane, 29, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a six-foot, 150-pounder participating in his fourth Olympics. He earned his medal in an event called Nordic combined, in which competitors participate in ski jumping and a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) cross-country ski race.

Every competitor jumps first, and then starts the race based upon how he jumped. The best jumper goes on the course first.

Spillane began the race in fourth place, 44 seconds behind. Teammate Todd Lodwick, the reigning world champion, started second. It took them just one of the four laps to catch the leader, Janne Ryynaenen of Finland. For the next three laps, Lodwick led a pack of six skiers in the lead group.

As the final lap began, the lead pack was joined by another American, Bill Demong. Incredibly, Demong began the race in 24th place, a full minute and 20 seconds behind Ryynaenen.

“I was toast that last lap,” Demong told Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post. “After a disappointing jump, I was just going for broke.

“So, it was pretty cool to be going into that pack going into the finish,” he told Katie Thomas of the New York Times.

Lodwick, who had actually retired two years ago, gave way to Spillane on the final lap. “I sacrificed myself for the greater good of the team,” he told David Leon Moore of the USA Today. “I pushed the pace. I pushed it hard. And I ended up fourth. I gave it my all. I left everything out there.”

Midway through the final lap, a breakaway was staged by Norhito Kobayashi of Japan. Spillane went after him, and soon reeled him in.
Kobayashi faded to seventh.

But the effort sapped Spillane. “Going into the last hill before the finish, I was feeling pretty good, and had a decent gap over some of the other guys,” he told Beau Dure of the USA Today. “But as I got further up the hill, I started to go a little bit too far into the red zone, and was pretty tired when we came into the stadium. The sprint didn’t quite happen at the end, but, overall, I’m pretty satisfied.”

Ah, yes, the end. The thrilling finish where Jason Lamy Chappuis of France glided past Spillane in the final meters to take the gold by four tenths of a second, the closest finish in the event in Olympic history.

“On the last hill, Johnny was far ahead of me, and I honestly didn’t think I could get the gold medal; I thought it was done,” Chappuis told Thomas. I just gave the best I could. I knew I could go a little bit further.”

But get this: here’s how far the US Nordic program has come. Chappuis, the current World Cup leader, actually chose to tail the Americans throughout the race.

“My goal was to follow Todd and Johnny, because I knew they were going to push hard to catch Ryynaenen,” Chappuis told Dure. “I felt pretty good behind them. I was resting a little bit.”

The exciting finish left Chappuis first, Spillane second, and Italy’s Alessandro Pittin third, seven tenths of a second ahead of Lodwick. Demong finished sixth. The results left the Americans euphoric.

“It’s obviously a great day for us,” Spillane told Moore. “We worked really hard to get to this point where it didn’t take anything special, but just a solid day.”

“I’m just thrilled,” he told Thomas. It took a lot of hard work. There’s only so many opportunities in your lifetime that you can be on your game at an Olympic event, so I feel just thrilled to be in this situation.”

As well he should. To get here, Spillane overcame a torn labrum in 2003, a torn disk in 2005, a shoulder injury in 2006, and a 2009 featuring another shoulder injury and two knee surgeries. Sunday’s result made all the pain worthwhile.

His teammates were just as excited. “We did it!” Lodwick told Moore, after giving Spillane a big post-race bear hug. “We finally got that monkey off our back!”

“Our expectations are to win,” Demong told Thomas. “Our expectations are to be on the podium.”

Then he told Stapleton, “It’s always about getting that first one out of the way. I hope it means it will be that much easier to get another.”

Surely, it won’t take another 86 years.