USA have Nordic ambition

After almost a century of frustration, the United States finally feel optimistic about winning medals in one of the toughest Olympic sports - the Nordic Combined, which marries ski jumping with cross-country skiing.

Eurosport

The US team, who long struggled to make their mark, are now benefiting from large investments of effort and money. In the 2009 world championships, American athletes won all three individual men's gold medals.

"The overall level of our team is much higher than it's ever been. Realistically this year we can go into this with really high hopes and I think deservedly so," said team member Johnny Spillane, who won a world title in 2003.

Spillane will be joined by 33-year-old Todd Lodwick, who came out of retirement to win the world titles in the normal hill and the 10-km mass start events last year and is taking part in his fifth Olympics. Also going to Vancouver is Bill Demong, the world champion in the large hill.

All three helped the US to get their best Olympic finish in the Nordic combined, fourth in the team event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

US coaches say they are confident of winning at least one medal in each of the three Olympic events this time.

Nordic combined is particularly challenging because the tall, thin physique required for good jumps does not help on the cross-country course, and the heavier, muscular body needed for endurance during the ski race is of little help when flying through the air.

The ideal competitor needs a high strength-to-weight ratio and has to go through special training to maximize power and minimise muscle mass.

The strongest competition to the Americans is likely to come from Jason Lamy Chapuis of France, who is well ahead in this year's World Cup standings, and veteran Felix Gottwald of Austria.

Gottwald, 34, won two gold medals at the 2006 Olympics and retired the following year. He returned to the sport in 2009 and is now second in the World Cup rankings, just ahead of Norwegian Magnus Moan, who won two events in two days in France last month but missed the following World Cup stop because of illness.

Last year's World Cup winner Anssi Koivuranta of Finland is having a disappointing season and is currently only 10th.

Three-time Olympic silver medallist Ronny Ackermann of Germany, who has four world championship golds, abandoned his attempt to compete at a fourth Games after his training was disrupted by illness and two falls.

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