- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 14, 2010

WHISTLER, British Columbia — The Americans broke through the Nordic combined barrier Sunday, winning their first Olympic medal in the sport dominated since its inception by the Europeans.

But it could have been even better.

Jason Lamy Chappuis — who was born in Missoula, Mont., but has always raced for France — overtook Johnny Spillane on the final straightaway for the gold medal, winning the individual race in 25 minutes, 47.1 seconds, four-tenths of a second ahead of Spillane.

Italy’s Alessandro Pittin won the bronze, finishing eight-tenths of a second behind Chappuis and just ahead of American Todd Lodwick.

Spillane and Lodwick, both of Steamboat Springs, Colo., took turns leading the way for much of the race. Spillane looked to have an insurmountable lead as he made his final turn, but Chappuis beat him to the line to win the event, which features one jump on the normal hill and a 10-kilometer cross-country race.

As Spillane was taking his final few strides, Chappuis surged past him using shorter strides. As he swept past, Spillane titled his head to his right just in time to watch the gold medal slip from his grasp.

“I just went for it,” Chappuis said. “Johnny was pretty good. I just tried to catch him. It was good to have a view in front of me and a goal to catch him.”

Spillane was satisfied with silver.

“At that point, I was just happy there was no one else going me,” Spillane said. “I was really tired.”

Lodwick, the reigning world champion, started in second place behind Finland’s Janne Ryynaenen, who had the longest jump of the day. Spillane started in fourth, 44 seconds behind Ryynaenen and Chappuis in fifth, 46 seconds behind the leader.

Billy Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y., started in 24th after a poor jump but finished sixth, giving the Americans three of the top six spots.

Chappuis, the son of a French father and American mother, is close with the American team. The French team went to Park City, Utah, for a pre-Olympic training camp with the Americans before flying to the Vancouver Games.

Once hopelessly behind the Germans, Austrians, Russians, Norwegians and Finns, the U.S. Nordic combined ski team is now one of the world’s powers following their domination of last year’s world championships and Spillane’s silver medal Sunday.

Winds swept through Whistler Olympic Park just as the World Cup heavyweights were about to jump down the normal hill, keeping distances down and pushing some of the best skiers to the back of the pack.

Norway’s Magnus Moan, who took silver and bronze in the individual events in Turin, finished ninth, and Austria’s Felix Gottwald, a six-time Olympic medalist, was 14th.

One jumper who did just fine was Chappuis, the World Cup leader, who jumped last but managed the fifth-best result, just close enough to the leaders to give him a chance to win.

Niyaz Nabeev of Russia was barred from competing in the race after tests before the Olympics detected too-high hemoglobin levels.

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