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      Americans win gold and silver in Nordic combined

      American Nordic skier Johnny Spillane / AP photo

      WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) " Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane have given the Americans a 1-2 finish in the Nordic combined large hill competition that was marred by bad weather.

      Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y. ended America's golden goose egg in Nordic sports at the Winter Games by winning the 10-kilometer cross-country leg in 25 minutes, 32.9 seconds Thursday.

      Spillane won his third silver of these games, finishing four seconds behind.

      Bernhard Gruber of Austria, who had a 34-second head start after jumping the farthest off the large hill after a restart, took the bronze 10.8 seconds back.

      Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y., started in sixth place and 46 seconds back, but quickly caught his teammate and Gruber for a three-man race the rest of the way.

      They didn't have to worry about some of the best World Cup athletes catching them after worsening weather hampered the top jumpers on the large hill, relegating them too far back in the field to be a factor.

      The cross-country race was run in much better weather, but the soft, sometimes choppy snow put a premium on the proper wax and ski setup. Unlike the team relay when Demong was done in by bad skis, he had the perfect combination to put the Americans atop the podium.

      But the damage had been done to the sport's better athletes.

      "It's a joke," Norway's Magnus Moan fumed of the final Nordic combined race at the Winter Games after managing to jump just 112.5 meters in a driving, wet snow and tail wind that pushed him down early.

      That had him starting 2 minutes, 21 seconds behind Gruber, who jumped in much better conditions after a restart earlier in the morning.

      Gruber, ranked 22nd in the World Cup standings, capitalized on a rogue headwind that helped him stay aloft for a top jump of 134 meters.

      "It's like a lottery. Some guys got good conditions, some others terrible conditions," shrugged World Cup leader Jason Lamy Chappuis, of France, who won the gold in the normal hill 10K but started this race in 29th and finished in 18th.

      Todd Lodwick, America's only five-time Olympic skier, did his part to help his teammates.

      "Once I saw those two guys pull away, I jumped in front (of the chase group) and tried to slow down the pace," Lodwick said.

      It worked perfectly.

      By the halfway point, it was Spillane in front, Demong and Gruber within a second and the chase group 41 seconds behind. Demong was in the lead at the three-quarters turn with the chase pack now 49 seconds back.

      Skiing in Demong's slipstream, Spillane slipped and fell going around a curve on the eighth kilometer, and Gruber moved briefly into second. But Spillane zipped past the Austrian on the final kilometer and quickly assured the U.S. of an unprecedented 1-2 finish.

      He smiled as he watched Demong win gold, then cruised across the finish line with his third silver medal, thrusting both arms into the air as Demong had done.

      Spillane's silver medal in the normal hill competition on Feb. 14 was the first U.S. Olympic medal in Nordic combined " a ski jump followed by a brutal race of speed around a cross-country track. He grabbed another silver in the team relay Tuesday.

      Before Vancouver, the only medals won by the Americans in Nordic sports " biathlon, ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross-country skiing " were a silver by cross-country skier Bill Koch in 1976 and a bronze by ski jumper Anders Haugen in 1924.

      Now, they have six.

      And they don't care if these last two came thanks to some fortune on the weather front with the rain, snow and wind on the jump hill aiding this historic breakthrough.

      "It's an outdoor sport," said Lodwick, who finished 13th. "The jury can do what they can do. They can't really control nature. Was it right to start the round over again? You never know. You could do this competition over and over again, I think you'd come out with a different result every time.

      "It's an outdoor sport, and we just have to deal with the conditions that we have."

      Before his race, Demong said it would have been a travesty had the first jump not been scuttled.

      "That was huge. That was a great decision," Demong said. "You could see how unfair the conditions were from the first group to the second group and then what they would have been for us. It would have been two different races going on."

      That's what it ended up anyway, thanks to the American trio that first came together as pimply-faced teenagers in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the 1990s and set their sights on this very moment.

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