PARK CITY — There isn't another sport like it.
It's not just that athletes have to master two different ski disciplines, they have to be able to compete at world-class levels in sports that require almost completely opposite skills and body types.
"There is nothing that's more different than our sport," said Todd Lodwick, who will represent the U.S. in nordic combined in his fifth Olympic Games next week. "I guess you could relate it to biathlon a little because it takes two different disciplines, two different skills. But it's really like taking a marathon runner and having them also compete in the 100 meters. It's two different body types."
The sport combines ski jumping with cross country racing, and athletes can compete in individual, sprint and team competitions.
That challenge is unique and difficult to master, and this 33-year-old father of two has been at it for two decades — ever since he took up the sport as a youngster in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
"I just lived in Steamboat," he smiled. "We're born with skis on."
Lodwick retired after the 2006 Winter Olympics, only to decide he had unfinished business in the spring of 2008.
"He called me. It was a little bit of a surprise," said nordic combined head coach Dave Jarrett. "It was a welcome surprise, but it came with strings attached. He'd have to work his way back on the team, which is the way he wanted to come back."
Lodwick earned his way back onto the team with some of the best jumping and skiing of his career.
"Coming back from retirement, that's really how I went into World Championships (in 2009)," he said. "I had nothing to lose, but something to prove. I just kind of went in there with no expectations and just kind of killed it."
He won the gold medal in both the mass start and Gunderson start at the World Championships, an accomplishment that earned him the USOC's Sportsman of the Year Award last month.
"I knew if I trained really hard, I was capable of producing results," he said. "It was just a matter of taking the right time, the right place, the right conditions and having a little luck on our side."
Lodwick was named to the 2010 Olympic team and a day later received the news that he was the Sportsman of the Year.
"It was really humbling," he said. "I didn't realize the scope of how big an honor it was until I got online and looked at the past Sportsmen of the Year. To put my name up there with the likes of Lance Armstrong, Carl Lewis, Tyson Gay and Michael Phelps — not only for me but for skiing — was an honor. There are a lot of sports out there and there's been a lot of success in those sports. To have that honor granted to me is not only an honor for me, of course, but for the ski industry, as well as my teammates and what we've accomplished in nordic combined."
Lodwick exudes confidence and joy as he gushes about what a great time he's having "hurling" himself 400 feet through the air, followed by grueling cross country tests.
"The biggest difference (between this Olympic year and the past four trips to the games) is that I'm having a lot of fun," he said. "This is a sport that not a lot of people get to do and I'm fortunate enough to be in the shape I am ... and to be able to continue to do it. It's just been a roller-coaster of fun."
Lodwick is enjoying his second wind so much, not only does he know he made the right decision to come out of retirement, but he doesn't plan to retire next year.
"I love the sport," he said. "I'm planning to ski next year. ... There is more to come."
And most immediately on the list of coming attractions, he and his teammates, who comprise the strongest nordic combined team in U.S. history, hope to earn that first Olympic medal in nordic combined.
What would it mean to the oldest member of the U.S. team to earn a spot on the Olympic podium.
"What can you say?" he said, growing serious for just a moment. "It would be a dream come true. A decade, two decades of goals that have never been met. And, then to slip that medal around your neck, not only for myself and somewhat of a monkey that's been on the back of U.S. nordic combined, but it's been on the back of every fan, every supporter, every UPS guy who comes to the front door cheering you on, a satisfying feeling it's going to be to say, finally — finally."
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Birthdate: Nov. 21, 1976
High school: Steamboat Springs High School
Equipment: Atomic, Jalas, UVEX, Swix
Interesting tidbits: Loves hunting and fishing. ... Married with two children, ages 4 and 18 months. ... Five-time Olympian; 26 World Cup podiums; 17 U.S. championships; 2009 World Champion; USOC's 2009 Sportsman of the Year.
e-mail: [email protected]