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US Nordic skiers head for Olympics with more hopes than usual

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Coaches and athletes, hoping to defuse any unrealistic expectations, downplay medal possibilities for American Nordic skiers at the upcoming Winter Olympics, but all agree the United States is sending its finest Nordic teams in history to Sarajevo.

It won't be just Bill Koch and a lot of wishing.

Nordic competition doesn't get much attention in the United States, but the Americans have been quietly building some strong teams and gaining plenty of respect from their European competition.

''We're still not in the same league with the Norwegians and the Soviet Union in terms of depth and overall numbers,'' said Jim Page, Nordic program director for the US Ski Team, ''but we've got a stable program in each sport and we're no longer token opposition for anyone. They know we're there.''

As for the Olympics, he added, ''We've sent bigger teams in the past but some athletes didn't get to compete, so it was a waste of money on one hand and it hurt morale on the other.

''This winter, everyone we're sending to Sarajevo is expected to compete. We're sending them to Europe early so they can get over jet lag and have some solid training before the games begin.''

Trials were conducted at this 1980 Olympic site for cross-country, ski jumping, Nordic combined, and biathlon. After the trials, all four teams flew to Europe for competition and/or training leading up to the opening of the Games on Feb. 7.

Koch, a 1976 Olympic silver medalist in the 30-kilometer race and the 1982 World Cup champion, remains the preeminent US Nordic competitor, but there are at least a couple of others who must be considered possible medal contenders.

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