Billy Demong: back at it

Seventh in the normal hill, sixth in the large hill at the just-concluded Nordic combined world championships -- is there something wrong with world and Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong? Just the opposite.

To know Demong is to understand what an incredible accomplishment he just turned in at the 2011 worlds in Oslo, Norway.

It is also to understand why he and the U.S. Nordic combined team, the breakthrough stars of the 2010 Vancouver Games, would seem poised for yet more success in Sochi and the 2014 Winter Games.

That's what sixth place in Oslo will do for you. Or fifth, which is where teammate Todd Lodwick finished in the large hill event. Or fourth, where the Americans finished in the team event.

"When we have people disappointed with fourth, sixth, fifth," Demong said Monday with a laugh, "we have come a long way."


Until Vancouver, the U.S. Nordic combined program had registered a historic oh-fer. In 86 years of Winter Games history, the U.S. team had won no medals.

Fourteen years of consistent funding, improved coaching and training, and planning -- it all paid off in Vancouver, with the U.S. team winning four medals in three events.

Demong and Johnny Spillane went one-two in the large hill event; Spillane won silver in the normal hill; the U.S. team won a relay silver.

Then came the obvious question: what next?

For Demong, it was time to take time off -- take most of 2010 to, as he put it, "live life, so that the motivation comes strong in the next three years."

The life living started with a bang.

Within 24 hours all this happened: He became a gold medalist. He learned he had been chosen to carry the U.S. flag in the closing ceremony. He proposed to his girlfriend, Katie Koczynski.

As soon as the Games ended, he did the whole media blitz thing. He went ski flying. He attended celebratory parades.

Originally from Vermontville, N.Y., he threw out the first pitch at a New York Mets' game: "I have watched too many people come up short," he said. "I freaking launched it over the catcher's head. He had to jump for it."

He spoke on the National Mall on Earth Day.

He visited U.S. Army bases in the Middle East.

He went back home to Park City, Utah, and re-did his house, among other things adding 400 square feet and moving the kitchen to the other side of the structure.

He and Katie got married. A son, Liam, was born in January.

It wasn't until September that Demong became a Nordic combined skier again. As he put it, "That's a little late."

So sixth place at the 2011 worlds -- that gets the job done, and in two ways:

"I would be going through that media corral and the reporters would be saying, 'You must be disappointed after sixth place,' " Demong was saying.

Hardly: "I'm in a different place right now. That's my best result of the season. It not only gives me confidence I can be really good it also lets me know I can be training well and can be better than ever."

All it takes, he said, is getting back to the gym.

No one has ever accused Billy Demong of lacking the hard-work gene.

"When you are at the top of your game," he said, thinking back to the 2009 and 2010 seasons in particular, "you're like, 'I can ski backward,' or, 'I can skip days training,' or, 'I feel so in control.' That is an important part of getting good.

"What's also important is realizing you have to stay good all the time. Taking time off and struggling through the season is a really good way -- a really good way of getting back in touch with desire and hunger."

He also said,  "As neat a goal as it is to win a gold, it might be even harder to defend it. It kind of freaks me out but it gets me excited.

"And that's the fun part."'