Nordic combined

Demong, Spillane still flying high

By Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press / February 26, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - They swore they didn’t care which one of them won gold to become America’s first Olympic champion in a Nordic sport.

Anyone who watched, though, knew Billy Demong skied to win.

He attacked on the final hill, hustled into the stadium, and raced across the finish line well ahead of three-time silver medalist Johnny Spillane, giving the United States a 1-2 finish yesterday in the large hill competition at Nordic combined.

Challenging wind gusts and pelting rain, sleet, and snow on the jump hill did little to dampen the Americans’ jubilation.

“I don’t think either of us really cared which one was first or second,’’ Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y., said after ending America’s golden goose egg in Nordic sports at these Winter Games by winning the 10-kilometer cross-country leg in 25 minutes, 32.9 seconds.

Spillane, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was four seconds behind him, and Bernhard Gruber of Austria, who had a 34-second head start after jumping the farthest off the large hill following a restart, was 10.8 seconds back and won the bronze.

Twice before at these Vancouver Games, Spillane was edged for the gold medal on the stadium straightaway, first by France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis in the normal hill race, then by Austria’s Mario Stecher in the team relay on Tuesday.

“Whoever was first and whoever wasn’t second didn’t really matter that much,’’ said Spillane, the only US multimedalist in Nordic sports. “Skiing into the stadium down that final stretch was quite a bit of fun.’’

Demong started in sixth place and 46 seconds back, but quickly caught his teammate and Gruber for a three-man race the rest of the way.

They didn’t have to worry about some of the best World Cup athletes catching them after worsening weather hampered the top jumpers on the large hill, relegating them too far back to be a factor.

The cross-country race was run in much better weather, but the soft, sometimes choppy snow put a premium on the proper wax and ski setup. Unlike the team relay when Demong was done in by bad skis, he had the perfect combination to put the Americans atop the podium.

But the damage had been done to the sport’s better athletes.

“It’s a joke,’’ Norway’s Magnus Moan fumed of the final Nordic combined race at the Winter Games after managing to jump just 112.5 meters in a driving, wet snow and tail wind that pushed him down early.

That had him starting 2 minutes 21 seconds behind Gruber, who jumped in much better conditions after a restart earlier in the morning.

Gruber, ranked 22d in the World Cup standings, capitalized on a rogue headwind that helped him stay aloft for a top jump of 134 meters.

“It’s like a lottery. Some guys got good conditions, some others terrible conditions,’’ shrugged Chappuis, who won the gold in the normal hill 10K, but started this race 29th and finished 18th.

Todd Lodwick, America’s only five-time Olympic skier, did his part to help his teammates.

“Once I saw those two guys pull away, I jumped in front [of the chase group] and tried to slow down the pace,’’ Lodwick said.

It worked perfectly.

By the halfway point, it was Spillane in front, Demong and Gruber within a second, and the chase group 41 seconds behind. Demong was in the lead at the three-quarters turn with the chase pack 49 seconds back.

Skiing in Demong’s slipstream, Spillane slipped and fell going around a curve on the eighth kilometer, and Gruber moved briefly into second. But Spillane zipped past the Austrian on the final kilometer.