Devon O’Neil: U.S. Nordic domination is like the Miracle on Ice
February 23, 2009
You will be forgiven if you havent a clue when the most significant event in the history of U.S. Nordic skiing took place. There is safety in numbers, after all.But it happened on Sunday, when Americans Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong claimed the gold and bronze medals in the same Nordic combined competition at the World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.This came on the heels of Lodwicks gold medal in the opening combined (jumping and cross country racing) event of the World Championship meet last Friday, a day when American Lindsey Van also won the womens ski jumping gold medal to become her sports first world champion.Four days into the meet, the Americans – basically this sports Prairie View A&M – were leading the medal count. Though the news was a tiny deal over here, you can bet it was enough to stop the Scandinavians in their skinny-ski tracks when they heard it.I called Matt Dayton to give the events a proper context, since even people like myself, who follow Nordic skiing from afar, have little idea how monumental these achievements are.Dayton, a Breckenridge native, spent two years on the Nordic combined World Cup circuit and helped the U.S. relay team to a fourth-place finish at the 2002 Olympics. He was a teammate of both Demong and Lodwick (who came out of a two-year retirement this winter to pursue the only prize absent from his cache, an Olympic or World Championship gold).Its kind of like the Miracle on Ice, Dayton said of the Americans suddenly standing on top of the Nordic world. Its breaking a glass ceiling that has been there for quite some time.To wit: Dayton estimates there are only about 50 athletes at any one time in the United States who are pursuing an elite career in Nordic combined skiing. In a Scandinavian country, there are thousands.The comparison would be like football in the United States, he said. Thats what Nordic skiing is to Norway. Theyre the stars of their country. Everybody wants to be like them.Lodwicks back-to-back golds stand out even further. Its unheard of, Dayton said. Hes one of the oldest guys on the circuit right now. What hes done, impressive doesnt even begin to explain it. Meanwhile, Lindsey Vonn overtook Tamara McKinney to become the winningest alpine racer in U.S. history with 19 World Cup victories, including six this winter. This book is still being written, which is why it doesnt count as much right now. By the time Vonn quits, my bet is she will have 40 or 50 Cup victories. Levi Leipheimers third straight win at the Tour of California on Sunday was a nice opening act for Astana, which could win every major cycling stage race this year if it wanted. He also gave us a glimpse of how the season will unfold from here in terms of team structure. Leipheimer, who benefited from having Lance Armstrong as his windbreaking lieutenant in California, said hell work for Alberto Contador (who won a race in Portugal over the weekend) at the Paris-Nice race in March, then Armstrong at the Giro dItalia in May.What remains to be seen, still, is who the team leader will be in France come July. Wouldnt it be something if Astana and Johan Bruyneel left that to be decided during the first week of Le Tour? Itd go against the whole strategy of team racing, yeah, but the drama would be spectacular. Our Stat of the Week comes from the NFL and makes you wonder how much turnover is too much: Only three coaches in the league – out of 32 – have won a Super Bowl: Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and Tom Coughlin. Our Quote of the Week comes from a Breckenridge radio DJ who was encouraging listeners to opt for a taxi or public transportation Saturday night. Not sure where he gets his logic, but this is what he said: For those of you here from out of town, this is not a good place to drive drunk. Lotta cops. In parting, you catch Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby going after each other during Sundays game? A cheap shot here, a late check there, then after the game both said the other talks too much.Which, you guessed it, sounds like a rivalry!The NHL, desperate to reclaim some semblance of mainstream relevance in America, could use nothing more than such a spat from its two best players. Take it from the NBA, which rode Magic vs. Bird to unprecedented popularity in the 1980s.Breckenridge resident Devon ONeils $0.02 column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.