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Lajunen Wins Nordic Combined Gold

February 10, 2002

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MIDWAY, Utah (AP) _ Samppa Lajunen of Finland won the gold medal in the Nordic combined Sunday after finishing first in the 15-kilometer cross-country race.

Jaakko Tallus, also of Finland, won the silver and Felix Gottwald of Austria won the bronze.

``Lajunen was so good today that I had no chance for the gold,″ said Tallus, who led after Saturday’s ski jumping portion but was passed by his countryman at about the 7-kilometer mark.

Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was seventh, the highest finish for an American athlete in the sport’s Olympic history. Rolf Monsen’s ninth-place showing in 1932 was the previous best finish for a U.S. athlete.

``It’s a little bit disappointing, because I had expectations of moving up,″ said Lodwick, who started seventh, two minutes and 15 seconds behind the leader. ``Of course, I would have liked to have a medal around my neck, but taking the best American finish back to Steamboat, that’s something I’m proud of.″

Americans Matt Dayton and Bill Demong were 18th and 19th, respectively. The other American in the event, Johnny Spillane, was 32nd.

Lajunen and Tallus gave their country its first 1-2 finish in the men’s event since Heikki Hasu and Martti Huuhtala claimed the top two spots in 1948.

Lajunen, third on the course in the staggered start based on results from Saturday’s ski jumping portion, finished in 39 minutes, 11.7 seconds. He made up 53 seconds on Tallus.

``After the last World Cup, I was not feeling very good or very confident, but for the last two weeks my training has been perfect,″ Lajunen said. ``It is hard work to be 23 years old and win an Olympic medal.″

Lajunen slowed as he entered the stretch run, grabbed a Finnish flag from the cheering gallery and carried it the final 100 meters to victory.

Gottwald turned in a poor first jump Saturday and started 11th in the cross-country race, but he rallied on the Soldier Hollow course and outfinished Ronny Ackermann of Germany for the bronze.

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