Bill Demong knows all about the Olympics. He competed at the Nagano, Salt Lake and Torino Games, just missing the podium (4th place) in the team event in 2002. The 2008-09 season was a huge success for Demong, with ten World Cup podium results and his first World Championship gold medal. With the Vancouver Games upon him, the 28-year-old believes his fourth time can be a charm.
Fill in the blank: Nordic Combined is a test of ...
... the all-around skier. In ski jumping, you have to be able to handle high speed and have a general recklessness to toss yourself off a ski jump at 60 mph and fly through the air for 450 feet. You need to be light, quick and, most importantly, technically efficient. Then, you have to be able to ski cross-country "like hell," to show cardiovascular fitness.
What's the chase like in the cross-country portion of Nordic Combined? Do you have a certain strategy?
I think that is the appeal. You always know who's winning and what's going on. A lot of things can change. If I jump far and am in a good position, I'm the hunted man in the ski. If my jump isn't so good, I can get motivated by looking down the start list and say, ‘I'm going to catch him, I'm going to catch him, I'm going to catch him,' and when that race starts, I just start picking them off, one by one. Either way, it's fun and a rush!
Describe the highs and lows of the 2009 season, culminating with your World Championships gold?
This last season was the most successful in my career as well [as the most successful in] U.S. Nordic Combined team's history. It started kind of slow and we built through the season into the World Championships. It was a little by design, an effort to sort of mimic the build into the Olympics. We had both the peak physical fitness and a relaxed attitude.
When you think about the opportunity to win in Vancouver, what goes through your head?
Although no American has ever won [an Olympic medal] before, we've been awfully close, especially in Salt Lake [in 2002]. [In the team event] we were third going into the cross-country pursuit race and we finished fourth. Even though we were a dark horse for a medal, we had the expectations and we had the belief. It was sort of devastating. For the next year, we beat ourselves up over this failure.
What makes you think the U.S. can end its medal drought in Vancouver?
One of the big things that will make a difference is that we have some real seasoned veterans. We've made finishing on the podium a habit, and I think our expectations have grown. We expect to contend. That's a different reality than we had in the past. That said, we're not struggling over thoughts of winning or being on the podium. We're staying focused on the present task: becoming one of the best Nordic Combined nations. That'll get us to where we want to be in 2010.
Do you think that having the Games in North America gives you an advantage?
I think so. Having been to Vancouver and seen the Whistler venue, and knowing that it'll be a lot easier for friends and family to travel to the events, I think it'll be pretty close to having another home Games.
What do you think of the location for the venue, Whistler Olympic Park?
The Callaghan Valley is one of the most breathtaking settings for a Nordic venue. It's surrounded by magnificent [mountain] peaks. The bottom half of them is covered with giant lodge-pole pines, and the top half, above the tree-line is Alpine scenic. I think it will provide just a gorgeous framework for the Olympics to take place.
And the venue itself?
The venue is world class. It was designed by John Aalberg, who also designed the Salt Lake Nordic venues. He's taken a lot of what he's learned over the years and put it together into this masterpiece, where you basically have the biathlon, cross country and ski jumping stadiums all within a half-a-mile walk from one another.
On a different note, if you had a week that you couldn't do any training, how would you fill in that time?
Well, half of what I do, I don't consider training! That would almost be tough for me, not to have some sort of adventure. The best way for me to take time off is to do a river trip where I'm just floating down some wilderness stream. At least, I'm outside.
What are some of the river trips you taken in the past?
I've done three different rivers multiple times in Alaska. Those river trips are amazing. Anything that is multiple days, skiing, camping, outside, away from people ... besides the people you brought with you, of course.
Compiled by NBC Olympics
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.