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Six of the best for history-maker Lodwick

Todd Lodwick made his Olympic debut at Lillehammer 1994, at the age of 17. Now, 20 years later, he is preparing to be Team USA's flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, ahead of competing at Sochi 2014. In doing so the Nordic combined specialist, who won silver at Vancouver 2010, will become the first American in history to participate at six editions of the Winter Games.

Todd Lodwick got his first taste of Olympic competition a whole two decades ago, at Lillehammer 1994. To put that in perspective, his current US team-mates Mikaela Shiffrin and Sarah Hendrickson – the reigning women’s Alpine and ski-jump world champions - had not even been born back then.

Lodwick has warm memories of the Opening Ceremony in Lillehammer on 12 February 1994, which took place in sub-zero temperatures. His mother managed to make her way into the heart of the stadium, and gave her teenage son a hug. “That is one of my favourite memories from my first Games,” he recalls.

At that point, the USA were a peripheral force in the world of Nordic combined, and Lodwick is very much regarded as a pioneer of the discipline in his native country.

He first made his mark on the international stage when he achieved the first ever American victory in the Nordic Combined World Cup, in front of a rapturous home crowd at Steamboat Springs on 6 December 1995.

Over the next 11 years, he went on to add another five World Cup victories to his CV, and over 20 podium finishes in total, not to mention participation at another three editions of the Winter Games, achieving a best performance of fourth place in the team event at Salt Lake City 2002. Four years later, after Turin 2006, he announced that he was retiring from competition, at the age of 29.

Return reaps rewards

Lodwick’s retirement was short-lived. In 2008, he returned to top-level competition, citing unfinished business: “I had finished my career without achieving my main goal,” he explained at the time. “That’s the reason for my comeback. I want to wear a medal around my neck!”  He wasted little time in setting about that mission, claiming both the mass start and Gundersen world titles in Liberec (CZE) in 2009.

The following year, at the Winter Games in Vancouver 2010 he watched his team-mate Bill Demong win the first ever Olympic gold in the Nordic combined on the large hill in Whistler. But Lodwick could only claim another fourth place on the normal hill.  “That hurt,” he admits. “As a kid, you dream of winning an Olympic medal. You train hard for 20 years, only to finish seven hundreds of a second short of the podium.”

A few days later, on 23 February 2010, Lodwick’s pain turned to joy when he claimed a silver medal in the team event, alongside Demong, Brett Camerota and Johnny Spillane.

The following year, during the 2011 World Championships in Oslo (NOR), he finished fifth but his performance was strong enough to convince him that he should have another tilt at Olympic glory in Sochi.

While he may be pushing 40, there is no sense of Lodwick easing up. As one might expect from an athlete who is about to compete in his sixth edition of the Games, he remains intensively competitive.

In the US Olympic trials at Park City on 28 December 2013, he secured his place at Sochi 2014 in emphatic style, defeating his nearest rival by a margin of 17 seconds.  With a season’s best individual performance of 11th in the World Cup event in Oslo in December, Lodwick currently lies just 52nd in the world rankings going into Sochi 2014. However his self-belief and determination remain undiminished.

“The reason I’m still here is that I still have the belief that I can be the best in the world,” he explains. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be doing it.” When he begins his sixth Olympic campaign on 12 February on the slopes of Krasnaya Polyana, there will only be one thing on his mind: another medal to hang around his neck.

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