Billy Demong shares tips, memories of his Nordic combined Olympic gold medal

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At Vancouver 2010, he picked up an unlikely historic gold medal in the oddly-named sport.

Twelve years later, on the eve of another Winter Olympics, Billy Demong still has the same advice for aspiring Olympians:

“Treat the Olympics like any other race.”

These days, at 41, Demong is executive director of USA Nordic, the governing body for Nordic skiers in America. He took charge of the organization in 2016, a year after closing the books of a nearly 20-year competitive career that included five Olympics, seven world championships and dozens of World Cups.

His sport was Nordic combined. This is the event that combines ski jumping – the old way – with cross-country skiing. This needs no explanation in Norway; here it’s almost as well known as curling.

Few sports are more demanding. First, there’s a football-field-length ski jump at 60 mph; then a cross-country ski race.

For decades, Americans have been banging their heads against a wall — full of Norwegians — trying to get on the Olympic podium. In 2010, this wall collapsed. Not only did Demong win individual gold, Johnny Spillane won two individual silver medals and the team of Demong, Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota won silver in the four-man relay.

Since then, Olympians of all persuasions – not just Nordic combiners – have wondered what went so well.

To help explain, Demong pulls out her smartphone and shows a video of her gold medal race. He concentrates on the part where he just crossed the finish line and is leaning over his ski poles to catch his breath.

To no one in particular, he can be heard saying, “That was pretty good.”

This is his Neil Armstrong moment.

He’s just won the first-ever gold medal in the US Nordic combined – the first gold, by the way, in a Nordic event in Olympic history – and his reaction is, “That was pretty good.”

Demong explains, “It shows how much I was in my own head. That’s how that day felt like every other day.

He recalls that it “took a few days for it to settle in” that he had won the gold. “I was waking up and thinking, ‘did this really happen?'”

Of course, the hardest part, Demong is quick to add, is being able to convince yourself to treat the Olympics like any other race.

“Thinking like this takes a lot of time. You have to become mature enough and get to a high enough level of competition that you can look around and think, “These are the same morons from Norway I race with all the time” – and you can quote that, these guys are going to love it . .”

For Demong, that meant three Olympics to train. He was 17 when he competed in his first Olympics in Nagano, Japan; 21 at the 2002 Salt Lake Games (where he came close to winning a medal when the US four-man relay team finished fourth) and 25 at Turin 2006 – all setting the stage for Vancouver.

Former Olympic Nordic Combined Gold Medalist Bill Demong poses for a portrait on the cross-country track at Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club in Park City on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

“I’m super glad I did it at 29 and not at 20,” he says.

After the gold, he got his brief taste of stardom, which for him turned out to be plenty. He did the Today Show, showed off his medals (along with his teammates) on a tour of armed forces bases in the Persian Gulf, did a bunch of media.

“For a few weeks random people would know who I was.”

Two months after the Games, he was invited to speak at an Earth Day event at the National Mall in Washington. When he walked into the White House Rose Garden with actress Sigourney Weaver, “at one point it was just me, her and Barack Obama talking.”

He has no memory of what they talked about.

Then he was back in New York (Demong grew up in the Lake Placid area) the next day to throw the first pitch in a Mets game.

“At that point, my brain is like, ‘You’re done, don’t do this anymore.’ So I went home.

To decompress, he took a hammer to the walls of his house in Kimball Junction to embark on a renovation project. Four months later, he had the house he still lives in (with wife Katie and sons Liam, 10, and Renn, 6).

He thinks he’s made $1 million from racing – in 20 years. “And it all happened over a period of about five years. It certainly didn’t help me financially. But I was smart and lived on the cheap and made smart investments along the way.

He was never in it for the money anyway, which is another wisdom he will pass on to aspiring Olympians:

“If you focus on the outcome or the reward, I don’t think you’ll get there. My advice is to focus on the journey. Success, however you define it, will be the byproduct of doing it right.


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