Best-laid plans in tatters for some medal favorites
Posted: Monday February 13, 2006 5:52AM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 6:40AM
Todd Lodwick finished a disappointing eighth in the Nordic combined.
David E. Klutho/SI
TURIN, Italy -- As much as we all love it when an upstart comes along and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy and inspired -- if that pesky band of kids can beat the Russian hockey juggernaut, then I can certainly mow the lawn and fix the porch railing in the same day! -- there is something to be said, when it comes to major sporting events such as the Olympics, for the preservation of order, for the big guys trouncing the little ones.
One of the beautiful things about the Games is that they offer a stage for the best in the world, the athletes who dominate their sports but don't get much hype in the States. That's especially true out here in Nordicland, where there were some amazing storylines waiting to be played out in the mountains above Turin, so long as things progressed according to form.
Todd Lodwick -- who has finished third and second in the last two World Cup Nordic combined events, after a seven-week hiatus to train and be with his wife, Sunny, and daughter, Charley, who was born six weeks ago -- looked like a decent bet to win the first U.S. medal in the 82 years that the event has been contested. Finn Hannu Manninen, who has made it his mission to transform the Nordic combined World Cup season into an exercise in anticlimax (he's wrapped up the title with six events left by winning 11 of 15 events, including the last seven), was going to finally win an individual Olympic medal.
In the biathlon, Ole Einar Bjorndalen was going to win the 20K, the first of what could be five golds in Turin. (He won four in Salt Lake City, and has been angling for a spot on the Norwegian cross country relay team so he can surpass that haul.) And the ski jump was going to come down to a head-to-head battle between JakubJanda of the Czech Republic and Finn Janne Ahonnen, who finished in a flat-footed tie at the prestigious Four Hills, which ended in January.
But, this being the Olympics and all, nothing went according to form. Since arriving in Italy, Lodwick has come down with every ailment known to science -- after battling a stomach bug, he got a cold that left him so congested he alternately said it felt as if a "football field" and a "bowling ball" were pressing down on his head. He finished a disappointing eighth, which was one spot better than Manninen, who has a record 42 World Cup wins but still has a gaping hole on his mantle where an Olympic or world championship medal should go.
Bjorndalen, meanwhile, missed a target in each of the first two shooting rounds. Each miss adds one minute to a competitor's time, and Bjorndalen lost to German Michael Greis, who had only one miss, by 16 seconds. And on the ski jump hill, Ahonen's second and final jump was terrible, dropping him from second to sixth, while Janda was never a factor.
While the events of the weekend hammered home the point that the Olympics are historically good for a surprise or two, let's not forget that they're also good about giving second chances. Lodwick's and Manninen's medal hopes are still alive -- they'll compete in the team event on Wednesday and the sprint a week from Tuesday. And if Bjorndalen wins three golds (not an unlikely scenario), he'll tie the all-time Winter Games record of eight, held by Norwegian cross country legend Bjorn Daelie.