Dayton wraps up Olympics with no medal, but experience of a lifetime | SummitDaily.com
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Dayton wraps up Olympics with no medal, but experience of a lifetime

Shauna Farnell

Matt Dayton feels a little drained after finishing his last Olympic Nordic Combined competition Friday. But the end of the Olympics doesn’t mean the end to big events in the life of the 24-year-old Breckenridge resident.

Dayton is in good spirits about his experience at the Olympics and the upcoming monumental events in his life, which include barely taking a breath before continuing to compete on the World Cup circuit, and getting married at the beginning of May.

Dayton finished 36th in the last of the Olympic Nordic combined events, which included a 120K jump on Thursday and a 7.5K cross-country sprint Friday. Finland’s Samppa Lajunen won the event for his third straight gold medal. Germany’s Ronny Ackermann took silver and Austria’s Felix Gottwald took bronze after moving up eight spots in the sprint. Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs finished fifth, moving up seven places from finishing 12th in jumping, and earning the record for the best showing ever by an American in the event.

Dayton has been so focused on competition, he hasn’t had time to see Salt Lake City at all during his time there. After the sprint Friday, he was finally able to do some sight-seeing with his family, many of whom made spontaneous multiple-hour drives to Utah to watch him compete.

“It’s been high intensity the last two weeks,” Dayton said. “We’ve had a lot of preparation for these competitions in a short period of time. It’s been a unique experience.”

As far as competition, the Olympic highlight for Dayton was finishing fourth Sunday with his American teammates in the team relay event, barely missing the bronze medal.

“Matt was honored to be the anchor man for the relay,” said Matt’s father, Gene Dayton, pointing out how being appointed the anchor position implies that the U.S. coaches regard Dayton as the strongest skier on the team.

“At the first checkpoint, he had the fastest split of any of the 40 athletes out there. It was unbelievable.”

Lodwick pulled a similar feat in Friday’s sprint. Although he started the race 56 seconds behind the leader, he finished five seconds behind Gottwald, who’s ranked No. 1 in the world.

“Todd skied a really good race (Friday),” Dayton said of his teammate. “I was happy for him. Overall, he was shooting for a medal. Seeing his results throughout the season, he’ll probably be a little disappointed he didn’t get the medal. The highlight for everyone was the Saturday after jumping. We were all really excited. We were ready to give it our all, and that’s what we did. We were shooting for a medal, but we were definitely happy to have the best ever result for an (American) team.”

The cross-country portion of the Nordic combined is clearly Dayton’s strength. But, most athletes who learned to jump only five years ago would typically not find themselves competing in the Olympics, as his mother, Therese Dayton, pointed out.

“Matt’s a new jumper, but it takes a lot to even be out there,” she said. “These are the best 40 guys in the world.”

Dayton leaves Tuesday for the next World Cup in Finland, where he will be up against the same field. He said he was unsure whether or not he would be competing in the 2006 Olympic Games, but that his 2002 experience unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

“I was disappointed after some of my competition jumps, but, overall, I skied well,” Dayton said. “I came away with a superb experience. Right now, I have to kind of sit back and weigh my options. I have a lot to look forward to.”

Box:

Worst part of Dayton’s Olympic experience:

“I expected to do better in the jumping. I went into the Olympics with good jump training under my belt. I was disappointed. That feeling you get after having a less-than-par jump performance is not good.”

Best part of Dayton’s Olympic experience:

“The best experience was being out there on top of that jump, sitting on that bar and listening to the crowd. They were cheering their hearts out.”

In the first Nordic combined event, Dayton placed 18th, after moving up 14 places from 32nd after the jumping. He served as the team anchor for the American team, which finished fourth in the team event. He finished 36th Friday, moving up three places after jumping. Matt’s 17-year-old brother, Josh Dayton, took second for Summit High School in the freestyle crosscountry event at the Colorado state high school championships in Winter Park Friday. He is in the process of following in his older brother’s footsteps, and will compete in the Junior Olympics next month.

Sidebar:

Gene and Therese Dayton, who operate the Frisco, Breckenridge and Gold Run Nordic centers, will return to Summit County with a special Olympic souvenir that will benefit all of their clients.

After seeing the perfection of the Olympic cross-country courses at Soldier’s Hollow, the Dayton’s purchased the grooming implements used to prepare the courses to bring back for use on local Nordic trails.

“We’re bringing back implements built by the head groomer for the Olympic Games,” Gene Dayton said. “It will make a big difference in what we can do on a more consistent basis. The course here is amazing. It looked like carpet instead of snow. It’s perfect.”

The implements have a series of sharp blades called Ginsu (like the knives), and are capable of aerating hard snowpack.

Matt Dayton vouched that the courses he skied on at the Olympics were prepared better than any he’s ever competed on.

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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