U.S. Nordic combined seeks encore after 2010 Olympic breakthrough

Bill Demong
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Go out on top? Bill Demong had every reason to Feb. 25, 2010.

The Vermontville, N.Y., native had won the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined, capping a bountiful Games for the team, successfully proposed to his girlfriend and was named the Closing Ceremony flagbearer. All on the same day.

His post-Olympic spoils would include throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game (perhaps not so prized in recent seasons), meeting President Barack Obama and renovating his Park City home with his wife, Katie. He took up cycling and enjoyed the gold-medal life.

Demong earned a break after about 15 years cultivating the U.S. Nordic combined program, along with Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick. Enough “What is Nordic combined?” questions. Enough cash-strapped European adventures, like crashing at a German mental institution for $14 a night.

But he felt compelled to come back.

“I really didn’t think our program was at a point where they could afford to lose all its best guys at once,” said Demong, who famously fractured his skull diving head-first into a shallow swimming pool in 2002. “I really felt I needed to stay on as a measuring stick, as a mentor.”

Demong (an Olympian since 1998), Spillane (since 2002) and Lodwick (since 1994) all stayed on, but the road the last three seasons has not been paved with gold.

Americans won zero medals at the 2011 World Championships and made a total of four podium appearances over more than 50 World Cup races the last three seasons.

Spillane tore an ACL and MCL jumping off a cliff into a lake five months after the Vancouver Olympics. He retired in April.

Lodwick battled asthma issues. He’s now 37 and hoping to make an American record sixth Winter Olympic team.

A new-and-old U.S. team hopes to regain that 2010 Olympic form the next two months. It began this weekend at the first World Cup event in Finland.

Financial issues remain, but these guys are having fun.

Demong and one of the team’s emerging stars, Taylor Fletcher, engaged in playful bets the last two seasons. They resulted in Fletcher wearing a Captain America suit and Demong dressing as Aquaman in Europe.

“It’s a good punishment,” Demong said. “That kind of attitude and those antics keep us fresh, light, motivated. You don’t want to be the guy wearing the costume for two weeks.”

On Feb. 24, the U.S. won its first World Championships medal since 2009, a bronze in a team event. They were powered by stars-and-stripes mustaches.

Demong’s favorite training partner — Scout

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

But what about Demong? He’s yet to work his way back into Olympic medal favorite form with one individual World Cup podium finish since Vancouver and 15th- and 23rd-place finishes at the World Championships in February.

The confidence is still there, though.

“The thing that tipped me toward coming back is I’m really now at my peak physical age,” Demong, 33, said. “I definitely feel like I’m coming back as a contender.”

Perhaps the greater threats are the Fletcher brothers, Bryan and Taylor. They’ve steadily moved up the World Cup ladder (bettering Demong and Lodwick last year) and, in their mid-20s, can carry U.S. Nordic combined after Sochi.

“Now, I can comfortably walk away and know that we’ve successfully passed the baton,” Demong said.

Cross-country season storylines

Noah Lyles clips Trayvon Bromell in personal best at New Balance Indoor Grand Prix

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Noah Lyles got his 2023 off to a personal-best start, beating Trayvon Bromell in a photo finish in the 60m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Boston on Saturday.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, ran 6.51 seconds. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, also ran 6.51. Lyles prevailed by two thousandths of a second.

“I’ve been waiting on this for a long time,” Lyles, whose personal best was 6.55, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Lyles is running the 60m to better his start as he bids to add the 100m to his 200m slate come the outdoor season that starts in the spring.

Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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