Posted: Feb 25, 5:25p ET | Updated: Feb 26, 3:29a ET

Demong wins Nordic combined gold

Spillane wins third silver medal; U.S. Nordic combi team wins four medals at Games
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WHISTLER (AP) -- An 86-year wait for one breakthrough, just 11 days for another.

The Americans crowned their first Olympic champion in any Nordic sport Thursday, less than two weeks after reaching the podium at the Winter Games for the first time in Nordic combined -- a ski jump followed by a brutal test of speed over a cross-country course.

Bill Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y., attacked on the final hill in the large hill competition, hustled into the stadium and raced across the finish line well ahead of three-time silver medalist Johnny Spillane, of Steamboat Springs, Colo.

So determined was Demong, the reigning world champion, that he didn't dare enjoy his victory until he was just a second or so away from the finish line, when he finally glanced over his shoulder and saw Spillane about 30 meters behind.

"In my head, I always imagine that there's someone right next to me, to keep me going all the way in," explained Demong, who won the 10-kilometer leg in 25 minutes, 32.9 seconds. "I heard Johnny, I could've sworn, right on my shoulder. I don't know who it was. ..."

Spillane was four seconds behind him for this third -- and sweetest -- silver medal of the Vancouver Olympics.

"It's been a great thrill to finally contribute to the U.S. medal count," said Spillane, who took second in the small hill competition and was part of the American relay team's silver medal triumph on Tuesday.

Bernhard Gruber of Austria, who had a 34-second head start after jumping the farthest off the large hill following a restart, was 10.8 seconds back and won the bronze.

The 1-2 American finish capped a brutal day in which challenging wind gusts and snow and sleet that made the ramp sticky -- wreaked havoc on the top jumpers, who went last.

Norway's Magnus Moan called it a joke and Jason Lamy Chappuis of France, the World Cup leader and gold medalist in the normal hill race, said it was a shame.

"I felt this jury destroyed the race because of the way they handled it," said Moan, who admitted he didn't try to catch the lead group after starting 28th and finishing 15th.

The top jumpers wanted another do-over on the jump hill but didn't get it.

"I am angry about the jury," said Chappuis, who started in 29th and finished 18th. "The jury wanted to finish the race and it is not good for the last five. It was an impossible mission."

The International Ski Federation said the race was as fair as possible given the worsening weather conditions.

"All jumpers had more or less the same run-in speed and all jumped within the same wind corridor" on the do-over, said the sport's FIS spokesman, Egon Theiner. "Some athletes won't be happy, but this is the danger of an outdoor sport."

Todd Lodwick, America's only five-time Olympic skier, was one of those whose medal hopes were jettisoned on the jump hill. But he still did his part to help his teammates, jumping in front of the chase group and slowing it down.

With Lodwick keeping all challengers at a safe distance, Spillane and Demong, who started in sixth place and 46 seconds back but quickly caught up with a one-man breakaway from the chase pack, took turns leading the race, employing tactics they learned while cycling across France last summer.

"They were just too strong," Gruber said.

Before Vancouver, the only medals won by the Americans in Nordic sports -- biathlon, ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross-country skiing -- were a silver by cross-country skier Bill Koch in 1976 and a bronze by ski jumper Anders Haugen in 1924.

Now, they have six.

And they don't care if these last two were wind-aided.

"Right now the French and the German guys are pretty bummed," Demong said. "We've been there, too. And at the end of the day, this is an outdoor sport."

And by day's end, the Americans were no longer also-rans in Nordic sports, either.

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