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Demong readies to defend gold medal

Luke Graham
Billy Demong soars Monday in Nordic combined training at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Joel Reichenberger

— Billy Demong paused, his mind returning to Vancouver four years ago and Olympic glory.

There, Demong made history as the first American to win a Nordic gold medal. He won the individual Gundersen large hill event in dominant fashion.

On Monday, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Demong smiled, let out a little laugh and conceded the obvious.

“I think in reality, I haven’t been on the podium hardly at all since Vancouver,” he said. “I’m definitely not the favorite. There are quite a few other guys I’d put on the favorites list before me.”

Certainly, a lot has changed for Demong in the four years since he achieved Olympic glory.

At those games, he got engaged to now-wife Katie Koczynski. The couple also had 3-year-old Liam shortly after the games.

The sport of Nordic combined took a backseat to other things in Demong’s life.

“He’s a father, he’s a husband and he takes every day and lives in it for what it is,” said teammate Todd Lodwick, who was on the 2010 team with Demong. “I’ve seen him not have so much stress. But when he feels like he’s not getting somewhere where he wants to be, the competitive guy comes back out.”

Maybe that’s the thing that bodes well for Demong.

He may not be the top favorite on paper, but the title of defending gold medalist does carry some clout.

Demong’s also proven to be a big-game competitor. Known in Nordic combined circles as Iron Bill or Bill’s Will, Demong has a knack for performing well on the grandest stage.

“He’s capable of coming out and winning (Tuesday), without a doubt in my mind,” Bryan Fletcher said. “He has this ability to go out there and do it when he wants to.”

Demong, though, admits the past four years have been different with other priorities.

Two days before a competition, Demong said, he would sit back and get his mind wrapped around the competition.

On Sunday, however, he was on his way down to Adler to pick up his wife and son.

“I couldn’t believe how excited I was to see them,” Demong said. “I chased (Liam) around for three hours before he passed out.”

Although Demong isn‘t a heavy favorite, he isn’t conceding anything at this point. He has jumped well on the large hill all week, including landing in the top 11 in two of the three rounds Monday.

Should he do that Tuesday, he’ll be in striking distance for a place on the podium.

“What it comes down to is, if I jump into a position that is threatening, people will have to react to me in the race,” he said. “I like that.”

Demong’s best finish this year was an eighth at a World Cup, and he has only two individual podiums since Vancouver. Still, there was an audible confidence in his voice Monday.

He is peaking. He is healthy. And he does have that luster as the defending gold medalist, making him a favorite.

Certainly, some things have changed in the past four years.

One thing that hasn’t, though, is that unquenchable will to win.

“In Vancouver, there was certainly more anxiety about getting my first individual medal,” Demong said. “It’s not that I don’t want it as much, it’s just I know the process is the place to put my focus. I’m a little more relaxed in a good way. In Vancouver, I was trying to relax. Now, I can find that place easier.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham


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