OSLO, Norway - Olympic champion Billy Demong is back chasing gold at the Nordic world championships.
The Vermontville native took a year off to savor life in the post-Olympic glow after winning gold in the Nordic combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games. He became the first American to earn Olympic gold in the sport when he edged teammate Johnny Spillane in the large hill event.
That set off a whirlwind of events. He proposed to his girlfriend that same night, got married in the summer and became a father.
Vermontville native Billy Demong’s life has changed a lot since this night last Feb. 25 in Whistler, B.C. when he became the first American to win a Nordic gold medal. Now, a year later, he is coming off a break from the sport as he goes for the gold at the Nordic combined world championships in Oslo, Norway.
(Enterprise file photo - Lou Reuter)
Demong says the break means he's not considered a contender. But he still believes he can push for a medal today when he takes to the normal hill to start the first of three Nordic combined events at worlds.
"I think my chances are noteworthy," Demong told The Associated Press. "But what I'd really love is to be able to chase down a team event medal. It's something we've never had at the world championships."
The prospect doesn't seem implausible. Demong and teammates Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Bryan Fletcher have all cleared 100 meters in practice jumps this week on the normal hill at Oslo's famed Holmenkollen venue.
Growing up in Vermontville, Demong said he felt drawn to cross-country skiing and ski jumping at an early age. He enjoyed the satisfaction of outlasting other skiers in the physically draining races, but he also craved the thrill of flying through the air to land jumps on the nearby hills.
"We Nordic combined skiers tend to love both, that's why we do what we do," he said.
Demong took time out from the sport after the Olympics to catch up on life and experience some of the benefits from Olympic success.
He and the rest of the team traveled to U.S. Army bases in the Middle East - "an amazing experience" - and visited President Barack Obama at the White House. He also spoke on the National Mall in front of a large crowd on Earth Day.
"I think all of us at some point threw an opening pitch at a Major League Baseball game," Demong said.
Just two weeks ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached out to Demong for some skiing tips during a visit to Park City, Utah.
"She's learning cross-country skiing and is really excited about it," he said. "She got her own set to take back to Washington D.C. She said it's been snowing like crazy there."
Demong's longtime friend Spillane also sat out most of the season, but for different reasons.
"I blew out my knee, missed the entire summer and only got back training in December," Spillane said. "My expectations aren't that high, but I still have lofty goals."
Spillane won three silver medals in Vancouver, two in individual events. Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis beat him by 0.4 seconds in the normal hill, the narrowest margin of victory in the history of the sport at the Olympics. But Spillane said he wasn't too disappointed at losing out at the line.
"I felt like I gave it everything in Vancouver, there just happened to be someone that bit better each day," he said.
Spillane believes the medals the Americans won in Canada are already having an impact on participation levels at ski schools and camps across the United States.
"We need hundreds and hundreds of eight- and 10-year-olds out there, and that's what we're starting to see now," he said.
Spillane's wife has stayed at home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., to look after their 6-month-old baby girl, but she'll be following his progress at worlds in Oslo, Norway.
"The atmosphere here is comparable to the Super Bowl in the U.S.," Spillane said. "People are getting excited. Everything in Norway has been gearing toward the world championships."