When Bill Demong goes to Sochi for his fifth Olympic Winter Games, he will end a career that has already seen him make history.
A native of the Adirondack Mountains who grew up in Vermontville, Demong is a nordic combined skier -- a discipline with both ski jumping and cross-country skiing -- who made his first Olympic appearance in 1998. Back then, he was an 17-year-old who showed a lot of promise as a surprise qualifier on the U.S. Ski Team that competed in Nagano, Japan. Sixteen years later, he is heading to Sochi as a decorated athlete, world traveler, team leader and defending Olympic champion.
No nordic skier from the U.S. had ever claimed Olympic gold until Demong achieved the feat at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, where he also picked up a silver medal in the team relay.
Bill Demong of Vermontville soars through the air during the nordic combined World Cup competition Dec. 15 in Ramsau, Austria.
(AP Photo -- Kerstin Joensson)
Four years later, he's still one of the top competitors on the World Cup tour but has been out of the medals so far this season.
"I am going in as a bit of an underdog but certainly on the radar, and I think that's a good place to be," Demong said. "I am very happy with how I have been feeling on both the jump and cross-country course. I am leaving my expectations open and doing some high-intensity training to help exude a peak -- put the icing on the cake, so to speak."
Whether or not Demong lands on the podium in his final Olympic appearance, he said he will make the most of the opportunity.
"I think it is a journey unto itself, as have been all of my other Olympic experiences," he said. "Each one is challenging in a different way and has its own theme. I am looking forward to seeing Russia redefine its global persona."
Demong was consistently in or hovering around the top 10 in World Cup competitions during January.
He made his first World Cup appearance in 1999 and since then has collected 22 medals at that level, including nine golds. Demong also jumped and skied his way onto the World Championship podium four times, including an individual victory in 2009 in Liberec, Czech Republic.
After his historic performance in Vancouver, Demong got married to former skeleton racer Katie Koczinski, had a son, Liam, and spent some time away from competition before returning with his sights set on Sochi.
Growing up, Demong was on cross-country skis at age 3 and began racing as a 10-year-old. Over a long career, he's traveled the globe, competing while soaking in different cultures and geographies. And in his home country, he has been a driving force in bringing the sport of nordic combined to a new level.
"Bill is leaving a lasting impression on our program and the USSA (U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association) organization as well," said Dave Jarrett, a teammate of Demong's in the late 1990s who is now the nordic combined national team's head coach. "Bill is somebody who has given back infinitely more than he's received. He's opened the door for the guys coming up. He's set the bar higher.
"Bill is leaving big shoes to fill," Jarrett added. "He's an Olympic medalist, he's a world champion, and he's promised to remain accessible. It's been awesome to be a teammate with him and now coaching him. He's going to be missed for sure."
Although Demong is set for a new chapter in his life after this season and said "being with my family" tops the list, he will always be able to relish a long career's worth of good times through nordic combined.
"I've changed many times over the years -- always growing and learning through the challenges of my career," he said. "I feel that now I am a person of far more skill than when I started, and have a much better perspective of what is important and what is possible."
What may be the one thing he will remember most?
"I think looking back, it is all the amazing years I have had traveling with a band of brothers, and setting the highest goals and learning how to achieve them," he said.