Bill Demong makes skiing history |

Bill Demong makes skiing history

Doug Alden
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bill Demong takes a practice jump Thursday, March 13, 2008, at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. Demong is wrapping up the season where no American has before, finishing third in the overall standings of the World Cup Nordic combined. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

Nordic combined skier has best finish ever for American


AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY ” Bill Demong is wrapping up the nordic combined season where no American has before.

Demong finished third in the World Cup overall standings of the discipline that combines ski jumping and cross country, and has been dominated by the Europeans. Demong is the first American to ever reach the podium in the overall standings. He won one World Cup event this season and placed in five others.

“It’s been really great to just have that expectation and confidence to go out and compete for the podium and the win,” said Demong, who clinched No. 3 overall with a huge comeback in the cross country leg Sunday in Norway.

Demong will complete his historic season this weekend at the U.S. championships in Park City. After the stress of competing with the world’s best for the past three and a half months, this is more of a chance for Demong to relax a little bit, reflect on what he just did and start to think about the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Standing on the podium in British Columbia would be an even bigger milestone. Americans have won just one medal in Olympic ski jumping and only one in cross country. There has never been a U.S. medal in the nordic combined.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s probably going to be my final Olympics, but I’m looking at it like it’s the first time I really have a legitimate chance,” he said.

Demong is on the second leg of a career that almost ended six years ago in a swimming pool accident. After taking a season off, he has gradually worked his way back toward the top in the nordic combined.

Demong won in the second week of the season, taking the individual title in Tondheim, Norway, with a cross-country sprint for his third career World Cup win. He was No. 2 in the overall standings for much of the season and still in second place entering the final weekend.

Demong had to overcome a terrible jump portion with a hard push through the 7.5 kilometer cross country leg to finish where he did. He was No. 21 for the event, but that was good enough to keep him at No. 3 for the season.

“It’s a new high-water mark for us,” said Luke Bodensteiner, the nordic director for the U.S. Ski Team. “It’s a statement for sure. It’s a real testament to Billy and his perseverance.”

Demong is a bit of an endurance specialist and needed that to complete his comeback Sunday during the World Cup finale in Oslo. He’s not the strongest jumper, but pushes his lungs and legs as hard as anyone in the sport.

“It’s a little technique, but mostly it’s how much pain you can take and what kind of engine your mom gave you,” Demong said.

Demong grew up cross-country skiing in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. He was born in Saranac Lake, just west of Lake Placid and only a month after the 1980 Olympics. He jokes that something must have come up through the frozen surface of Mirror Lake as his pregnant mother watched some of the medals ceremonies.

Demong was only 17 when he made his Olympic debut in Nagano. Four years later, he just missed out on winning a bronze medal in the 2002 team Nordic combined in Park City.

Demong was 21-year-old rising star who appeared on his way to making American history before a terrible decision that summer almost ended his career. Demong and some friends were horsing around at a hotel pool in Germany and he decided to take one more dive into the shallow water.

He dived too deep and his head smacked the concrete bottom of the pool, fracturing his skull. When he regained consciousness a few minutes later on the pool deck, Demong was terrified he had broken his neck.

He was almost grateful to hear it was only a cracked head, which ended up keeping him out of competition for a full year because of the concussion.

“If I had reinjured it at that point, it could have been game over,” Demong said.

Demong spent that season working construction, taking a few classes and thinking about how fortunate he was. It gave him a completely different outlook on training, which he said became a passion.

“I was making a pact with myself. No matter what, no matter how bad it gets, I’m going to enjoy it or not do any more. That’s really helped me,” he said. “It’s more fun and results are better.”

After nationals this weekend, Demong already has his first day of the offseason planned. He will hit the backcountry, skiing uphill for three hours and then savor the sweet trip back down.