Fans, former teammates and coaches of Billy Demong celebrated Tuesday evening after the Vermontville skier and his U.S. teammates took silver in the nordic combined team event.
At Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake, where Demong raced as a child, the news spread quickly among the approximately 35 nordic enthusiasts and young athletes there for the cross-country ski races.
"I found out right as the Dewey Mountain Tuesday night races were finishing up," said Kris Seymour, one of Demong's former coaches. "We were standing there, and the last kids were coming across the line, and somebody got a cell phone call. Then (my wife) called my phone and then about 10 people all found out in the same 10 seconds. It was fantastic."
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The day started with Demong and teammates Brett Camerota, Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick combining for 505.8 points in the ski jumping portion of the competition. That meant the U.S team would start 2 seconds behind the Finns - who slightly outjumped the U.S. - in the 20-kilometer team relay race, with Demong skiing the last 5k.
When Demong hit the course, he inherited a 14.1 second deficit from Spillane. Demong made up that time and locked into a battle against Austria's Mario Stecher, whose team took the gold, until the final downhill when Stecher pulled away for the final stretch, finishing five seconds ahead of Demong.
Throughout the North Country, fans followed the action on the Internet, either watching streaming video or viewing the live results as they were posted on Web sites.
"That was pretty awesome," said Wilmington resident Larry Stone, a former jumping coach of Demong's who watched streaming video live. "It was 49 minutes of just unbelievable tension. It was just so cool. It was a very exciting race."
Stone coached Demong as a child through the New York Ski Educational Foundation and remains in touch with him. Last winter, he saw Demong win a world championship in the Czech Republic.
"I was very happy," Stone said. "He's such a hardworking and talented athlete. He's such a statesmen for the sport."
Lake Placid resident Taylor Hoffman has known Demong since about the age of 10 and is a former member of the U.S. Ski Jumping Team. He was ecstatic after the race and sent Demong a text message congratulating him and wishing him luck in the next competition on Thursday.
"It's absolutely exciting," Hoffman said. "I'm so happy for him I can't even explain it. He's been working so hard for so many years. If there's anyone out there that deserves it, he does."
For those who know Demong, the one thing they echoed Tuesday after U.S. won the silver medal was that Demong deserved it because of all the work he's put into the sport. The medal has been a long time coming for Demong, a four-time Olympian who went to his first Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano, Japan as a 17-year-old.
Lake Placid resident Casey Colby, who is the NYSEF ski jumping coach, was an Olympic ski jumper in the 1998 Winter Games when Demong first started emerging on the international scene.
Demong has "the most amazing work ethic I've experienced in anybody," Colby said. "He never wants to quit."
That drive was on display most prominently during the first individual nordic combined race of the Olympics when Demong made up nearly one minute and a half on the race leader to take sixth place after starting 24th.
Despite Demong's success, Colby said that's what separates Demong from many others is the way he handles himself around younger athletes.
"When these kids around here see him, he's just a normal guy," Colby said. "He just comes over and he helps them. He just leaves stuff behind - new equipment for them to have that he doesn't need anymore. He's kind of like the big brother. Normally guys like that are like a hero, but with Billy, they just know he's just a great guy. He's a little different from most guys that I've ever met, just because he's so humble about it."
The silver medal is, in a sense, not just a victory for Demong and his U.S. teammates, but it's a reflection of the region and the many programs he's participated in as a skier.
"I'm really thrilled for Billy," Seymour said. "He's worked so hard, and to have your dreams come true after so many years of hard work and sacrifice - it's great for him. For a lot of coaches, to have a former athlete win an Olympic medal is just a dream, and it's the same for me. I couldn't be happier."