Youth Olympic Games Conclude With 7th For Team USA In Relay

Photos from the mixed relay on February 21, 2016, at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway

Feb. 21, 2016, 11:09 a.m. (ET)

LILLEHAMMER, Norway (February 21, 2016) - The 2016 Youth Olympic Games wrapped up in Lillehammer on Sunday with the mixed relay. The U.S. team of Chloe Levins (Rutland, Vt.), Amanda Kautzer (Plymouth, Minn.), Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids, Minn.) and Eli Nielsen (Stehekin, Wash.) placed seventh in the field of 18 countries.

On the opening leg, Levins went clean in prone to put the American squad in third place behind Sweden and Russia. Although she needed an extra shot in standing, Levins moved the U.S. up to second place behind Finland. A tight group came in for the first exchange with Levins tagging off to Kautzer and the team in seventh place. At that point they were 15 seconds ahead of Russia, seven seconds out of third place and just 12 seconds from the lead.

"Today's race was a great relay experience for the team," said Levins. "We had great skis, and I think the idea of competing as one nation instead of individually added a new aspect that everyone enjoyed. A lot of us had family out on the course as well which made our last race in Lillehammer quite special."

Kautzer moved up to fifth place with just one extra in prone and was back in the medal hunt in third place after two extra rounds in standing. The team was now 48 seconds behind leader Norway, 25 seconds back of second-place Germany, and six seconds up on Sweden.

"It was awesome to get the tag off in such a good position," Kautzer said. "Chloe was second after the standing shooting and tagged me in eighth place or so. I passed a few people on my first lap thanks to super speedy skis from our wax techs Robert and Jean. It was so exciting to lay down to shoot prone in sixth, and even more exciting to shoot standing in fourth! After standing, I left the range in third place, the highest up in the rankings I have ever skied. I gave it my all, but unfortunately Sanna, the Swedish biathlete I met when she came to Jericho for the exchange this summer, passed me." 

Cervenka took the second exchange from Kautzer in fourth place after Sweden took over third. However, Cervenka needed to ski two penalty loops after prone, bumping the team down to eighth place, still ahead of Russia but 23 seconds behind seventh-place Ukraine. He maintained the eighth position with one extra in standing as the final exchange was made with Nielsen.

"Today's race was fun," added Cervenka. "It was too bad my shooting in prone was a little shaken up. I ended up with two penalties after that leg. It was a great learning experience on the course today."

Nielsen needed three spares and a penalty loop in prone but finished strong with only one extra needed in standing, allowing Team USA to move up to seventh place at the finish with a time of one hour, 24 minutes and 56.2 seconds. The U.S. time was 6:20.6 back of gold medalist Norway (1:18:35.6/0+11). Germany earned the silver medal, just 7.6 seconds back and needing nine extra rounds. Italy was a distant third, 1:30.4 back with six spares.

"The race was awesome!" Nielsen said afterward. "I had a lot of fun. I am glad I was able to put together an OK race after a couple not-so-great days. Great conditions and great skis thanks to Robert. I struggled in prone. I was too tense and ended up having a penalty loop. In standing I was much more confident and only used one spare. It was a tough course, but I feel like I skied it well. Thanks to my teammates we had a great race, and placed OK."

"It's been a decent relay for us today," said U.S. Coach Jean Paquet. "Chloe and Amanda did a great job on the skis and on the range using four extra rounds and tagging in fourth place to Vasek. He did a good skiing leg but did two penalty loops which set us back to ninth. Eli skied well and did one penalty. Considering the three extra loops, the seventh place was a good result."

The team also enjoyed the entire Youth Olympic Games experience.

"We had a really good relay and I think everyone not only gave it their all, but had a good time too," added Kautzer. "It is the Youth Olympics after all, and it's an incredible feeling to be here, which I think the whole team shares."

"The Games were a great success -- very well organized, welcoming and warm people," said Paquet. "Perfect winter skiing conditions in viking country."

Said Levins: "Lillehammer, Norway, the IOC, and the 3,000 volunteers have made my experience at Youth Olympic Games the greatest experience of my life. On the outside, over 70 nations and 1,000 athletes came together to compete against each other in winter sports. Although we are competitors, speak different languages, and come from different countries, this trip has made me realize just how much we all share: a love for sport. This knits us all together."

Mixed km relay results

1. Norway (Oeygard, Johansen, Bucher-Johannessen, Bakken) 1:18:35.6/0+11
2. Germany (Fruehwirt, Pfnuer, Gross, Riethmueller) 1:18:43.2/0+9
3. Italy (Comola, Lardschneider, Christille, Braunhofer) 1:20:06.0/0+6
7. USA (Levins, Kautzer, Cervenka, Nielsen) 1:24:56.2/3+12