LAKE PLACID - Competing in front of family and friends Sunday at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex, Olympic champion Billy Demong rose to the occasion once again, winning the U.S. Nordic Combined Championships.
"It's funny because you'd think after 15 years of me racing, nationals wouldn't have the same feeling or enticement. But for me, nationals is always a good goal, especially since we do it in the fall," said Demong, of his ninth national title.
Many of Demong's friends and family showed up because it potentially could have been his last competition in Lake Placid. The Vermontville native, who now lives in Park City, Utah, plans to retire after this season, which includes the Sochi Olympics in February.
Vermontville native and Olympic champion Billy Demong crosses the finish line on roller skis to take his ninth U.S. nordic combined
championship Sunday at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
After a jump of 80.5 meters, Demong started third in the pursuit style cross-country portion of the race during which the athletes use roller skis. That put him 16 seconds behind 20-time national champion Todd Lodwick and 12 seconds behind Aleck Gantick.
Second-place finisher Taylor Fletcher started ninth, 1:02 behind Lodwick and six seconds behind his brother Bryan, who took third.
Lodwick was able to maintain a slight lead over Demong for the first half of the 10- kilometer race, with the Fletcher brothers and Brett Denney trailing behind by as little as nine seconds at one point in a tight pack.
For the second half of the race, Lodwick couldn't keep pace with Demong, who went out ahead of his competition. Taylor Fletcher finished 11.1 seconds behind Demong and three-tenths of a second ahead of his brother. Denney finished 31.1 seconds back for fourth while Lodwick was fifth after coming in 1:14.5 off Demong's pace.
"I was really trying to ski my own race," Demong said. "I knew either the biggest threat today was Todd sprinting to the finish or Taylor. If he catches you, chances are he's just going to ski away from you on the bigger hills. Especially lately, he's been creaming me. So I really wanted to ski an even split race and just stay at least 10 or 15 seconds in front of him, so he didn't have the opportunity and it seemed like that worked out."
Although Taylor Fletcher skied well, he struggled with his jumps earlier in the day. He said that's something that has happened to him before in Lake Placid.
"I was definitely really disappointed after the jumping," Fletcher said. "I've been jumping at a much higher level pretty much the whole summer, so to come out here at nationals and have a below-average competition jump is extremely frustrating. You definitely use a lot of energy being mad about it and disappointed, and to be able to come out and have a quality race, like I had, especially with my brother, is a good thing. We're a great team and we worked really hard together."
Colin Delaney of Lake Placid took eighth place, finishing 3:58.8 behind Demong.
Ski jumping championships
Prior to the cross country race, world champion Lindsey Van and Nick Alexander won U.S. Ski Jumping Championships on the K-90 hill.
It was the 16th U.S. title for Van and second for Alexander.
Van, who attended National Sports Academy in Lake Placid for three years, launched the two longest jumps of the day for the women, soaring 92 and 96.5 meters to take a 250 to 223.5 win over Jessica Jerome. Alissa Johnson finished third.
Lake Placid's Nina Lussi jumped 80.5 and 78 meters for 179.5 to take fourth place.
"I had a great time," Van said. "I was just trying to have fun and I wasn't focusing on winning. I was just focusing on having two consistent good jumps. It worked out some I'm psyched."
Alexander, an NSA graduate, took first by putting together back-to-back 99 meter jumps for a total score of 263.5 points. He easily beat Nick Fairall, who had jumps of 94 and 92.5 meters for 242.5 points. Anders Johnson took third with jumps of 94.5 and 90.5 for 242.
"It feels great," Alexander said. "It really backs up all the hard work I've been doing all summer, and the plan is to just keep going this way and working hard until winter time."
Peter Frenette of Saranac Lake came in fourth place. He struggled a bit on his first jump, going 91 meters, but had a strong second jump of 95.5 meters that almost earned him a medal. His final tally was 241 points, putting him just behind Fairall and Johnson.
"The first one I was a little off balance coming to the takeoff. It wasn't a great jump but I was still able to get over 90 meters, so it's all right," he said. "The second jump was a little better jump. I had a little trouble landing, so I think I got marked off in style, so it was really tight competition."