First U.S. Nordic combined medals resonate 10 years later

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Heading into the 2010 Winter Olympics, no American had ever earned a medal in Nordic combined. The U.S. had only won one medal in each of the event’s constituent disciplines — cross-country skiing (Bill Koch in 1976) and ski jumping (Anders Haugen, who was bumped from fourth to third in the 1924 Olympics when a scoring error was discovered 50 years after the fact). 

But the U.S. team had plenty of confidence heading into Whistler Olympic Park. In the 2009 world championships, Todd Lodwick won two individual events; Bill Demong won the other.

In Whistler, with the unprecedented burden of expectations, the team delivered right out of the gate.

In a thrilling finish, with the top four separated by 1.5 seconds, 2003 world champion Johnny Spillane took silver in the normal hill event to break the medal drought. Lodwick finished just out of the medals in fourth.

Spillane would go on to take another silver in a 1-2 U.S. finish behind Demong in the other large hill event. The trio of world champions, along with Brett Camerota, added a fourth medal with a silver in the relay.

“It was a special time for our team,” Spillane said Wednesday. “We came in with high expectations. We were able to get off to a good start and carry that momentum.”

Lodwick made his Olympic debut in 1994 at age 17 and was within striking range of the Olympic podium in 2002, finishing fifth and seventh. Demong debuted in 1998. Spillane followed in 2002.

The Olympics on home snow in Park City proved to be a springboard to greater success. Lodwick kept making World Cup podiums. Demong was third in the World Cup season standings in 2008 and 2009.

“We were in a fortunate position with the Salt Lake Olympics,” Spillane said. “We had really good funding from an early age, and we got put into this development that really committed to being the best in the world.”

All three of the breakthrough U.S. athletes had some setbacks and time off. Demong and Spillane were injured. Lodwick briefly retired before coming back for 2010.

In Whistler, conditions were good, if a little warmer than ideal. In the idiosyncratic schedule that year, athletes had a nine-day wait from the first event to the relay.

The relay was important. The team had finished fourth in 2002 and was anxious to get a medal for everyone.

This time around, the U.S. finished a close second in the ski jump and would start the cross-country relay only two seconds behind Finland, with more than 30 seconds over the rest of the field. Camerota put the U.S. in first place, and Lodwick made it a two-team race with Austria. Spillane kept the U.S. in striking range. A late surge by Austria’s Mario Stecher to deny the U.S. a gold medal, but Demong comfortably crossed the line for silver.

“To finally be able to do it was really important for the team,” Spillane said. “We were able to put it together at the right time getting everyone to have a good day on the same day.”

The relay also ensured a medal for Lodwick, who had carried the flag for Nordic combined for many years. He literally carried the flag in 2014 as the U.S. flag-bearer in the opening ceremony.

The U.S. hasn’t been as successful in the mentally and physically demanding sport before or since that golden run. But the 2010 medal run has inspired younger athletes like Jasper Good, who started on the World Cup circuit as a teenager and made his Olympic debut in 2018.

“How the U.S. guys performed in 2010 had a huge impact on my excitement for the sport of Nordic combined,” Good said by email. “I vividly remember watching these events on a big projector at Olympian Hall in at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The room was packed, and Ben (Ben Berend, another 2018 Olympian) and I had to stand on trash cans in the back of the room so that we could see what was happening. Amazing times.”

Steamboat Springs is also Spillane’s home. The Colorado resort keeps its jumps in steady use and hosts a Fourth of July event.

“It’s part of the culture here in town,” Spillane said. “The ski jumps are right downtown, so you grow up looking at them.”

With that foundation and people like Demong working with the next generation, Spillane is hopeful for the future.

“We might not see it this year or next year, but maybe 5-10 years from now,” Spillane said.

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Eddy Alvarez, Olympic short track medalist, to play for Miami Marlins

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Eddy Alvarez realized his MLB dream, six years after earning a Winter Olympic medal, and during a global pandemic that affected his club more than any other U.S. professional sports franchise.

Alvarez, a 2014 U.S. Olympic short track speed skating medalist, is being added to the Miami Marlins roster for Tuesday’s restart of their abbreviated season, president of baseball operations Mike Hill said Monday, according to Marlins beat reporters.

The 30-year-old was among a group added after as many as 18 Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus last week, forcing the club to cancel seven games.

Alvarez is believed to be the first U.S. Winter Olympian to become a Major League Baseball player.

He may be the second Olympic medalist in a sport other than baseball to make it to the majors, joining Jim Thorpe. (Michael Jordan tried to do so with the Chicago White Sox, playing Double-A in 1994, but returned to the Chicago Bulls in 1995.)

Alvarez, a Miami native, played baseball in high school and at Salt Lake Community College before focusing on short track in 2012 for a 2014 Olympic run.

He came back from missing the 2010 Olympic team and surgeries on both knees, reportedly leaving him immobile and bedpan dependent for four to six weeks, to make the Sochi Winter Games. Eddy the Jet earned a silver medal in the 5000m relay.

Then Alvarez returned to baseball after three years away. He signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox in June 2014. He worked his way through the minors between that franchise and the Marlins system.

Alvarez was a Kannapolis Intimidator, a New Orleans Baby Cake and a Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Now, he’s a big leaguer.

“It definitely was a chance, picking up a kid who hasn’t played in three years who is starting at the age of 24,” Alvarez said in 2014. “It’s not your typical story, but I play like a 17-year-old kid. I’m running around everywhere. I’m diving around everywhere. I’m full of life. I definitely see my progression moving at a rapid pace.”

MORE: What Olympic baseball, softball return looks like in 2021

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Katie Ledecky balances glass of chocolate milk on her head while swimming

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Katie Ledecky will always remember Aug. 3 as the date she won her first Olympic gold medal, at age 15 in 2012.

Now, she can also associate it with the time she created another kind of buzz on social media.

The five-time Olympic champion posted video of her swimming the length of a pool while balancing a glass of chocolate milk on her head. Barely any, if any, milk spilled into the pool.

Ledecky swam as part of a new got milk? ad campaign.

“Hoooowww nervous were you when you did this?!” fellow Olympic champion and training partner Simone Manuel asked Ledecky on Instagram.

“I have never braced my core so hard,” Ledecky wrote. “It’s a great drill!”

“Try doing it breaststroke,” British Olympic 100m breaststroke champion and world-record holder Adam Peaty wrote.

“Is it wrong of me to think this is even more impressive than a few of your WR’s?!!!” wrote 1992 Olympic champion Summer Sanders.

MORE: The meet where Kathleen Ledecky became Katie Ledecky

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