Can 2010 gold medalist Billy Demong repeat at Sochi?
The top United States Nordic combined athletes will compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team this Saturday at Utah Olympic Park, the site of the 2002 Winter Games.
For the uninitiated, Nordic combined events include a ski jumping competition (one jump) and a 10 kilometer cross-country ski race. For the U.S. trials, the winner of each event receives an automatic nomination for the team, with the rest of the squad selected from existing World Cup and Continental Cup events. The full Nordic combined squad will be announced on January 22. Full event info is below:
|11:15 a.m.||HS-100 Nordic Combined Competition|
|4 p.m.||Nordic Combined 10K (4 x 2.5 km)|
NBC will air a recap of the event on Sunday at 1:30 PM ET in conjunction with its live coverage of ski jumping. Viewers can also watch the Nordic combined events live on NBC Sports Live Extra.
The American team dominated the Vancouver games in this event, winning four of the 10 total medals in the event. Billy Demong, who won gold in the 2010 individual large hill competition, headlines a strong U.S. squad determined to reinforce its newfound status as a world power in the sport. As TeamUSA.org illustrates, the medals were the payoff after years of building the foundation:
The American performance in Vancouver was a rout. The U.S. team medaled in all three Nordic combined events — normal hill, large hill and the team relay — and took 44 percent of the Olympic medals on offer in Vancouver. The Scandinavian countries, where Nordic combined is practically a national sport, came up empty. It was as if a Norwegian baseball team had beaten the Yankees in the World Series.
But it was no fluke. The four medals won by Demong, Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota were a goal toward which the U.S. team had steadily worked for over 15 years. They were a deserved reward in a sport where financial gain is not a driving force, at least not in this country.
In addition to Demong, the U.S. boasts impressive depth behind the reigning champion. Former world champion Todd Lodwick, at age 36, is aiming for his sixth Olympic games. Lodwick helped the U.S. earn a silver in the team event, and he also helped the Americans win bronze in the World Cup this past January.
In addition, the Fletcher brothers, Bryan, 26, and Taylor, 23, figure to have a place on the roster. The Fletchers are among the strongest skiers are on the roster, and older brother Bryan is coming off a victory in the Holmenkollen World Cup, the de facto Super Bowl of Nordic combined. Taylor made the 2010 squad and has supplanted Demong as the fastest American cross-country skier.
One name who will not be joining the team is Johnny Spillane, the silver medalist behind Demong in the large hill event. Spillane suffered numerous injuries after Vancouver and retired this past April. Team coach Dave Jarrett says there is no one who can truly replace Spillane:
Coach Jarrett said Spillane’s retirement leaves “a huge hole in the roster."
“He’s a world champion and a three-time Olympic medalist,” said the coach. “We don’t have somebody waiting in the wings who has those same palmares."
“We would have more matches to burn if Johnny was around,” Jarrett added. “But that doesn’t mean that some of these younger guys couldn’t step in and be the next Johnny."
Nevertheless, Spillane and the 2010 team laid the groundwork for American Nordic combined, carving out an international presence in a sport long-dominated by the Scandinavian countries. Now the question is whether the U.S. can stay at the top with a bullseye on its back, something the team will begin to answer this weekend.