The Winter Olympics were first held in 1924 and 86 years passed before the US had a gold medalist cross country skier standing on a podium at the famous quadrennial competition. Bill Demong of Vermontville, NY was the man to attain the gold amongst a team destined to gather hardware in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In past games, American cross country skiers have had as much promise, but they have not delivered as expected, until the 2010 US Nordic Combined Team stepped up to the podium with individual gold and silver medals and a team silver medal. Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong, and Todd Lodwick had previously won world championships (Demong in 2009) and were internationally ranked 8th, 10th, and 13th respectively in the Nordic Combined World Cup standings last February.
Johnny Spillane broke the ice with a silver medal in the first competition for the team at the new facility built for the games outside of Whistler, British Columbia. He appeared to have the gold in hand but he was caught from behind by a Frenchman with only 4 tenths of one second remaining to the finish line. The French guy was born in the USA and lives in Missoula, MT. It was also tough luck for American Todd Lodwick, who led that race for 95 percent of the time and then ended up in 4th. His comment, "Fourth place sucks." American Bill Demong, who started in 24th position after his jump, made it back to finish in sixth place. Add it all up and the Americans had three finishers in the top six and things bode well for the team competition in Nordic Combined later in the week. Spillane commented, "I spent too much energy catching the racer ahead, who it turned out was already dead on his skis." Spillane said that he was so spent that he didn't even remember entering the stadium or being passed. "Obviously, you want to win the gold, but what counted was that I was satisfied with my performance." He also spoke about "added pressure in the team competition compared to the individual races because it is more for country and your teammates."
Spillane and his wife had a baby girl last July and he also had a knee operation in the summer. The baby and the rehabilitation will slow his getting back into the competitive fray until late January. He realizes that with a baby that "it will be tougher to be on the road so much and hard to keep motivated this year."
Bill Demong is a goal and plan oriented fellow and after the Olympics he took a couple of weeks reflecting and decided to "enjoy and continue success with the team and individually and try to defend my championships."
Demong's story is made for TV. After winning the gold in Vancouver in the Nordic Combined big jump, he proposed marriage to his girlfriend and then was selected by the US Olympic Team athletes to carry the flag in the closing ceremonies. "It was a whirlwind of a few days but a perfect ending to a perfect Olympics," commented Demong about the "pretty hectic and exciting" time immediately following his triumphs. But why no Wheaties box cover? Demong said "those things are predetermined before the games even start."
A few years back his career was hanging in the balance after a serious accident in a swimming pool. "Fracturing my skull was the turning point in my career as it gave me a year off to recuperate and redefine why I wanted to ski and what I wanted to get out of it. I like to get my angry out and chase people." And then in the 2009 World Championships in the team competition, Demong made headlines for misplacing his racing bib amidst his racing outfit. The US team was disqualified in that competition but his teammates were quick to forgive him. After the incident, he not only went out and won the big jump world championship, but later in the month he took gold at the King's Cup in Vikersund, Norway, which is considered one of the highest honors in Nordic Combined competition.
Do Olympic Athletes Turn those Medals into Cash?
The Nordic Combined Olympic medal winners have been very busy since the Vancouver games. Both Spillane and Demong spoke of their trip to army bases in Iraq and they've done plenty of fund raisers to help various causes and ski programs. Spillane said, "It was so busy for 3-4 months and now it is calming down. For sure you make money, but it is not six figures." He commented that "it is a small window and there are not as many opportunities as I thought. The ski team helps with training but does not line much up financially" for these athletes and it sounds like there was very little lined up in advance.
Demong also said there were more opportunities after winning Olympic gold but he pointed to the nonfinancial opportunities that are very meaningful such as supporting a renovation of Dewey Mountain where he grew up skiing, and developing a new company. He wants to take advantage of "new venues that were opened up so he can build something long term and make a difference." Both skiers spoke of their development work with younger skiers as "giving back to the sport."
There was some sniping at the Olympics about the weather advantage for some of the jumpers in Nordic Combined events and upon being asked about it Demong commented, "It seems that at every event the weather causes whining, but it evens out. The best skiers usually win." And it also seems that Bill Demong taking an individual gold medal and a team silver medal was indeed the best Nordic Combined skier at the Vancouver games. Congratulations!