WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK, BC (Feb. 25) – The wait is over. Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) secured USA’s first-ever nordic combined gold medal in Thursday’s large hill competition, with teammate Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) finishing four seconds behind for his third silver in these breakthrough Games for the U.S. Team.
Johnny Spillane (L) of the United States celebrates winning silver and Bill Demong of the United States gold in the Nordic Combined Individual LH/10 km. (Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The pair maneuvered together from the outset and finally pulled clear of Austria's Bernhard Gruber in the final 500 meters, with the new Olympic Champion Demong sprinting to a four-second win over his U.S. teammate.
"There's only one way to go," said Demong, whose win was the first gold Olympic history for nordic skiing. "Today, I left enough in the tank to be able to do that. It's the first time all year I've had that there."
Spillane sat second and Demong was sixth after high-scoring jumps of 118.5 and 115.5, respectively. The two soon joined and began working together to move ahead of the pack in the 10 kilometer cross country portion, with Gruber tagging along admirably.
"Midway through the second lap we knew we were pretty well clear and it was just going to be a fight between three people," Spillane said. "The idea was to have Bill and I in the first two, so we kept trading the lead and kept doing big accelerations and slowing down in big decelerations. We worked together almost like a bike race than anything else, because we did have some room to play with."
Still, Gruber remained attached to the lead group until 800 meters from the finish – with all three within a second of each others – when Demong made a break, with Spillane joining him in leaving the Austrian behind.
"When Bill accelerated on that last hill, I was kind of stuck a little bit and had to go around him a little bit further than I would have liked to have a chance to win," said Spillane, who captured the first U.S. nordic combined medal with his silver in the normal hill, and then pitched in for Tuesday's team silver.
Spillane is the fourth athlete to earn medals in all three nordic combined events at the same Games, the first Olympic medals in U.S. nordic combined history. Demong credited him with a role in his own gold, stressing the importance of Spillane's normal hill medal in breaking the ice for the U.S.
"To me, this program has always been about the team," Demong said. "This Olympics has shown that, even to ourselves, more than ever, because I think all three of us – Todd (Lodwick), Johnny and I – really, really wanted to get the medal out of the way. We wanted to have enough of this 86 years, no medal kind of thing. For Johnny to step up and take that, that was a success for all of us."
Lodwick (Steamboat Springs), a five-time Olympian, jumped during extra windy conditions and started well back of his teammates, but his cunning racing from the back helped give them the advantage they needed to add to the U.S. hardware haul.
"Todd did a really good job today in terms of staying with the group and kind of covering those lead guys and not helping them," Demong said.
"I knew that if I could go hard and go the way I wanted to, I had a chance for third place," Lodwick said. "But once I knew that those guys were kind of going away, I kind of ran tactics and jumped in front and slowed the pace down."
That the U.S. has three athletes capable of reaching the podium on a given day might come as a surprise to the rest of the world, but it's nothing new for Demong, who has now completed four Olympic trips with Lodwick and Spillane.
"The way we jump, the way we ski, we know that we have the potential to put more than one guy on the podium," Demong said. "That's the key, not forcing it but knowing that it's possible."
2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Whistler Olympic Park, BC – Feb. 25
Gold – Billy Demong, Vermontville, NY, 25:32.9
Silver – Johnny Spilane, Steamboat Springs, CO, +4.0
Bronze – Bernhard Gruber, Austria, +10.8
4. Hannu Manninen, Finland, +33.1
5. Pavel Churavy, Czech Republic, +34.0
13. Todd Lodwick, Steamboat Springs, CO, +1:10.3
45. Taylor Fletcher, Steamboat Springs, CO, +6:40.6