Vermontville native Billy Demong and the U.S. nordic combined relay team took bronze Sunday in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
The U.S. team, consisting of Taylor Fletcher, Bryan Fletcher, Todd Lodwick and Demong finished in 57 minutes, 38.2 seconds. France took the gold in 57:34 and Norway finished in 57:34.4 for second place.
"I haven't been on the podium a whole lot the last couple of years," Demong told the Enterprise in a phone interview this morning. "Also, we haven't been on a championship podium since Vancouver, so I think it was really good to kind of crack that shell again."
Vermontville native Bill Demong charges forward as he anchors the U.S. nordic combined relay team to a bronze medal at the world championships Sunday in Val di Fiemme, Italy. On his face is a painted-on mustache U.S. team members wore.
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Ski Team)
Even though the American relay team took silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, this was the first podium finish for an American relay team in the world championships. The previous best was fourth place in 1995.
In nordic combined events, competitors start the day with a ski jumping competition and finish with a cross-country ski race.
In this race, the Americans started the skiing portion of the competition in fifth place, about a minute behind the leading Japanese team, according to the Team USA website. By the time it was Demong's turn to race, the team was in fifth place but just seven seconds off the top skiers.
Demong soon overtook the lead on the initial climb, even though it was a tough place to be on this day. Demong said course reports recommended against leading because there was quite a bit of wind on the backstretches. But Demong felt he needed to take the lead to keep the pace fast because that was his best chance to win.
"I was trying to balance that, wanting to be the hammer but also being smart about that," he said. "In this case, I felt ... this is a better race for me if it's a harder race for the other guys, so I tried my best to control the race from the front of the field."
Heading into the last two kilometers, Demong held the lead, but Jason Lamy Chappuis of France and Magnus Moan of Norway were stronger in the final stretch. Moan took the lead on the downhill nearing the stadium before Chappuis took command, battling Moan to a near photo finish with Demong close behind for bronze.
"It was great to be able to charge up the last hill," he said. "Unfortunately, I lost Jason and Magnus by just a couple of meters over the last climb, but those guys are two of the best finishers in the business."
The same American relay team was on the podium in early January when it took a bronze in Schonach, Germany. That finish was the American's first-ever relay medal in a World Cup competition.
Demong's last individual medal came last February at Val Di Fiemme, Italy in a World Cup race. He took bronze. This was his fourth career world championship medal and the third for Lodwick.
"Hopefully, we can build some momentum from here to take another step forward up the podium here in the next few events before the championships are over," Demong said.
On a side note, the American team all wore flag mustaches as a showing of team unity and patriotism. The mustaches were courtesy of Bryan Fletcher, who wore a similar one when he won a World Cup race in Oslo, Norway last March.
Demong returns to action Thursday for the large hill competition.