Spillane claims Nordic silver
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By ARNIE STAPLETON
WHISTLER, British Columbia — Gasping for air, American Johnny Spillane was gliding toward the finish line, cowbells clanking in his ears, the stars and stripes shimmering in the stands, a gold medal and greatness both within his grasp.
Just a stride and a half away from being crowned an Olympic champion, out of his right eye Spillane caught the blur of a black and white ski suit as France's Jason Lamy Chappuis zoomed past.
Spillane was too exhausted and too exhilarated to care.
His silver medal in the Nordic combined normal hill event yesterday marked the first time the Americans had ever climbed the Olympic podium in the cross-country skiing and ski jumping sport dominated since its inception by the Europeans.
"Today was a pretty good day for me," said Spillane, of Steamboat Springs, Colo. "Overall, I'm very satisfied with the result."
Chappuis, the World Cup leader who was born in Missoula, Mont., but who has always raced for France, won the race in 25 minutes and 47.1 seconds, four-tenths of a second ahead of Spillane.
Italy's Alessandro Pittin won the bronze, finishing eight-tenths of a second behind Chappuis and just ahead of American Todd Lodwick, who missed out on the podium by seven-tenths of a second.
Spillane's was only the third Olympic medal in Nordic sports for the Americans, joining Bill Koch, who won the silver in cross-country skiing in 1976, and Anders Haugen, who took the bronze in the ski jump in the inaugural 1924 Games — although his medal wasn't awarded until a-half century later after a historian discovered a scoring error.
"After 86 years of trying, we are actually legitimate," said former U.S. coach Tom Steitz, who maintains close ties to the American team. "How do you boil up 86 years of frustration? You don't. Everybody starts crying. We are all going to sit around tonight and drink champagne and touch the medal."
Chappuis said he had given up hope of catching Spillane until he saw the American was spent and slowing down upon reaching the stadium at Whistler Olympic Park after having pushed the pace for so long.
"On the last hill, I honestly didn't think I could get the gold medal," Chappuis said. "But then he slowed down a little bit entering the stadium and I had really good skis, so my glide was a little bit better than him, maybe.
"I knew I had the power to pass him."
And he just barely had enough distance to do it.
Spillane was satisfied with silver.
"At that point, I was just happy there was no one else going by me," he said.
"I was really tired."
It was the closest finish in a Nordic combined event at the Olympics.
"Four-tenths of a second is you know a snap of your fingers," lamented U.S. coach Dave Jarrett.