Spillane Returns to Historic Site
Every trip back to Italy's nordic hotbed of Val di Fiemme brings back memories for Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO). It was on jump in Predazzo and the rolling foothills through the valley that Spillane became a world champion in 2003. Spillane, along with teammate Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY), who was second last weekend, return to the scenic northern Italy valley for a pair of events this weekend, including a new mass start event where the cross country portion of combined precedes the jump.
"We always feel good here in Val di Fiemme ever since Johnny was World Champion here in 2003," said Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett. "It's been a home away from home for a lot of years and we look forward to this weekend."
"It's always nice to come back here. It's great weather and it has a lot of memories for me," said Spillane. "I'm just hoping for another good result. I've been struggling a little bit jumping but I feel confident on this hill and my racing has been really good."
Spillane, then 23, had enjoyed a bit of a hot streak in Dec. 2002, with a string of five straight top 10's, including three podiums. But as January came, he cooled off and struggled. In the opening traditional event of World Championships (two jumps and a 15K ski), he was well back in 24th.
So on Fri., Feb. 28, 2003, the day of the sprint (single jump with 7.5K ski) he wasn't really on anyone's radar - that is, until he jumped to fourth with a powerful 124.0 meter leap. Was a medal possible? He was OK starting 28 seconds behind Germany's jump leader Georg Hettich. But could he catch German Ronny Ackermann, 19 seconds ahead, or hold off Austria's Felix Gottwald just seven seconds behind him.
Spillane skied the race of his life - strategically outskiing the veterans Ackermann and Gottwald on a pair of rocket fast skis the team's technicians had prepared for him. With his parents and sister watching from the stands, the Steamboat Springs native sprinted across the line first - more than a second ahead - to become America's first nordic World Champion. Teammate Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO) raised Spillane on his shoulders and the the Americans celebrated an historical moment in U.S. Ski Team history.
The weekend will feature two events, with a traditional one jump event Sunday with a Gundersen start 10K cross country. But Saturday's opener will be a preview of the new mass start to be run at next month's World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. In that event, the cross country event is held first, followed by the jump.
"The mass start in World Championships will be a unique experience," said Jarrett. "We're excited to do the dress rehearsal this weekend and see how it goes."
Lodwick, who had a pair of seconds in Germany to kickoff his World Cup return, has opted to sit out the weekend as a part of his staged plan to move back into competition. "Todd is home in Steamboat trining this wekend and he'll rejoin us in Whistler next weekend," added Jarrett. "He just needed soe time with his family."
Action kicks off at 6:45 a.m. ET Saturday with the mass start cross country, followed by the jump at 9:30 a.m. ET. Sunday's traditional event starts with the jump at 4:00 a.m. ET and cross country finale at 9:15 a.m. ET. You can follow the action live on FIS Live Timing.