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2010 Winter Olympics: Utahn Brett Camerota helps U.S. to historic medal

'Coolest day ever' for team that wins silver

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Brett Camerota stood at the top of the ski jump at Whistler Olympic Park understanding all too well what his effort meant to his teammates.

The Park City native has seen how hard veterans Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong work. He knows how much heartbreak and disappointment they've endured. And he knows just what earning the first nordic combined team medal would mean to the men who pioneered the sport he loves in the U.S.

"Yeah, there is always pressure for sure being the fourth guy with these three," he said with a bit of a smile after the U.S. team finished 5.2 seconds behind Austria to earn a silver medal — the first team medal for the U.S. in nordic combined, in which ski jumps determine the start time for the 4 X 5-kilometer relay race. "Definitely, a ton of pressure, especially for the jumping. ... I wouldn't want to take that jump again, too much pressure. I'm glad it went well."

Camerota had the longest jump of the U.S. team, and he skied the first leg of the relay race, just two-tenths of a second behind Finland and .34 seconds ahead of Austria. Germany came from .45 seconds back to finish in third.

"I have to give Brett credit," said Lodwick, who's been to five Olympic Games and came out of a two-year retirement to try and earn the country's first nordic combined medal. "Bill, Johnny and I have been there year in and year out. It's kind of been, 'Who will be that pivotal person who's going to step up and have an extraordinary event?' "

As it turned out, it would be 25-year-old Camerota, who said he'd been working on his ski jumping in order to give the team an advantage in the cross-country race.

"To watch Brett go 133 and a half meters, I was beside myself," said Lodwick. "I was so pumped. I was so psyched. And then to have him have the (guts) enough to go out in the first leg of the race and leave Finland behind, that's an extraordinary effort. The three of us, we have to thank him for stepping up to the plate because he is that, in my mind, the pivotal person within these four people."

Camerota began ski jumping shortly after he moved to Park City at the age of 6. He skied both alpine and cross-country but found himself trying to jump off of anything and everything he found in his way.

His twin brother, Eric, also trains with the team and was in the crowd cheering the team to victory.

It has been a long, difficult and sometimes discouraging road to the podium in Whistler for the three veterans of the team. Spillane has battled injuries for the last few years after winning the country's first World Championship in 2003 in nordic combined.

Demong suffered a severe head injury when he dove into a swimming pool in the summer of 2002 and had to take a year off from the sport. It was three years before he made his way back into the ranks of the elite.

And then there is 37-year-old Lodwick, who came out of a two-year retirement in hopes of accomplishing the one accolade that had eluded him in his 20-year career.

"It's a great feeling because it's the culmination of a lot of years of hard work and a lot of years of disappointment," said Spillane, who won the first individual medal in the sport for the U.S. last week, also a silver. "This is the product of years and years of hard work, and to have it pay off like this is amazing."

The 2002 Olympics were the most significant disappointment for the trio of veterans, who finished fourth in that team relay. But it was also where they, unbeknownst to them, inspired the man who would help them win silver on Tuesday.

"I was a fore-jumper at the Olympics," Camerota said. "I got to hang out with the Olympians (Demong, Spillane and Lodwick). That's when I was psyched and started getting serious about it."

Spillane, Lodwick and Demong said the disappointment of 2002 was difficult to recover from, but it eventually helped them all find balance and perspective that was missing prior to that heartbreak.

They wanted to win, but it no longer defines their efforts.

"You take the good days with you and forget the bad," Demong said. "Just enjoy this because it's an awesome life."

The men said there were many people responsible for their success on Tuesday afternoon.

"There are so many people who've been on this journey with us — teammates, parents and coaches — and even whole towns like Lake Placid, Park City and Steamboat Springs that just loved the team, take us in, support us in every way, and this is kind of for them, too."

Camerota said his brother was among those who skied with the four men in training and pushed them to be able to take on the world and walk away winners.

"They all helped all of us get this medal," Camerota said of all their teammates, families and friends. "So many people helped us get this medal. It was just the coolest day ever."