Bill Demong made history at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. He became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in Nordic Combined, an event that combines ski jumping and cross country skiing.
Team USA is counting on him to again challenge for the gold in Sochi, which will mark his fifth Olympic games. They also are likely to be his last. His 33-year-old body has been through a lot during more than 15 years of competition on the World Cup circuit. He's also married and has a child.
Demong says his focus has never wavered, however, in his preparation for the Sochi Olympics.
He's now ready to take on the best in the sport, such as France's Jason Lamy Chappuis, a gold medalist in Vancouver in the 10-kilometer individual normal hill event.
Demong won the gold in the 10-kilometer individual large hill event.
"This time around," he said, "I really tried to take some time off in the beginning so that I’d be more motivated now, and I think that really worked, and especially this year I really have a focus and a motivation each day as I see the end of my career coming, but know that I’m still a contender. I really enjoy getting out of bed and going to train, especially now with a child you really have to compartmentalize your life, and I’ve gotten much better with time management."
A Marriage Proposal
In Vancouver, Demong brought home a series of other amazing memories. He anchored the American Nordic relay team to a silver medal.
He also proposed to his girlfriend in a post-race celebration. She said yes, by the way. To top it off, he was given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies.
Demong, a 2009 world champion, feels good about the Nordic Combined team the U.S. has for Sochi. It includes fellow returnees Todd Lodwick, another former world champion, and Taylor Fletcher. Fletcher's brother, Bryan, the top-ranked American on the World Cup circuit, is new to the team.
"In the team relay, there’s really five big nations, and that’s the United States, Austria, Germany, Norway and France," Demong said. "Also, on the individual side, I’m happy to say that in addition to myself and Todd Lodwick returning to the team, we also have two up-and-coming brothers, the Fletchers, both of which have won World Cups or have been on the World Cup podium. And we have multiple darts to throw at the board for individual medals as well."
Demong competed in the Olympics for the first time at age 17 at the 1998 Nagano games. However, he was much younger when the Olympic spirit was first instilled in him.
1980 Winter Olympics
He grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state in the town of Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
He said he is "steeped in the memories" his parents passed down of watching American Eric Heiden win a record five speed skating gold medals in Lake Placid. His parents also told him stories about the U.S. hockey team's dramatic upset of the Soviet Union enroute to the gold medal.
At the same time, Demong felt an itch to challenge himself on the slopes. He began ski racing at five years old and ski jumping a few years later.
"I also drove by the ski jumps every day, and the looming 26-story tower of the Lake Placid Olympic ski jump kind of beckoned me," Demong said. "It was something that kind of made me deathly fearful at a young age, but it was also something that I was intrigued by and wanted to do. I got involved first with cross country racing in the Olympic venue in Lake Placid, Mount VanHovenberg, and then later on started jumping at about age eight. And it was natural for me to put the two together.
"And I get something out of each one," he added. "I love the adrenaline push of the ski jump, as well as the pain and perseverance of the cross country race. And I feel like I never wanted to do either one without the other."