Tom Ross: Demong praises Austrian coach |

Tom Ross: Demong praises Austrian coach

— I had a pretty clear sense before Thursday's Olympic gold-medal performance that Billy Demong was a class act. But I wasn't prepared for the extemporaneous remarks Demong made to reporters in a news conference after the event.

In 2007 and again in fall 2008, I was reminded that De­­mong had taken it upon himself to organize youth ski camps in part to help developing athletes take another step up the ladder.

Demong didn't reference those camps directly during his news conference. But he talked about a camp more than a decade ago when he and triple silver medalist Johnny Spillane received some special motivation from former U.S. Nordic combined assistant coach Bard Elden, of Norway.

"It hit just now that this day was pretty insane because I would have been perfectly happy with Johnny having a silver medal" after the Feb. 14 normal hill competition, Demong told reporters Thursday. "The team event medal was icing on the cake, and today was something extra."

Demong went on to share some memories from his formative years and remarked that he could not have dreamed of Olympic gold as a 16-year-old.

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"It speaks to the fact that 15 years ago, when we were all pretty good for our age in the U.S., that we got an opportunity to go to Lake Placid and do a six-week camp where we got up at 7 a.m. and trained three times a day with Bard Elden and followed in Todd Lodwick's footsteps.

"(Lodwick) led the way with his World Cup podiums and his successes and all the way through the line of us buying into this team where we live together, we train together, we succeed together, and we share each others' successes."

Elden, who nurtured the new generation of U.S. Nordic combined skiers when they were teenagers in Lake Placid, N.Y., was with the U.S. team at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Soldier Hollow, Utah, when they narrowly missed a bronze medal in the team event.

Here comes the ironic part of the story.

Where do you think Elden was on Thursday when Demong and Spillane were coming up gold and silver?

As head coach of the Austrian Nordic combined Olympic team, you can bet he was urging on Bernhard Gruber, Felix Gottwald, Mario Stecher and David Kreiner, the Americans' chief rivals in Whistler, British Columbia, this month.

It was no accident that Billy acknowledged his former mentor Thursday. It was a typically classy move.