Retirement party for Bill Demong

SARANAC LAKE – Bill Demong returned to his native Adirondack Mountains over the weekend, and on Sunday, members of Saranac Lake’s nordic ski community honored the Olympic gold medalist at a small reception at the new lodge at Dewey Mountain.

After a storied nordic combined career with the United States Ski Team that reached across three decades, Demong retired from competition at the end of last winter. The father of two and current a resident of Park City, Utah, was introduced by Tim Burke, another local Olympian who Demong grew up skiing with on the trails at Dewey.

Burke, a biathlete and three-time Olympian, recalled a “training day” when the two, along with Saranac Lake native and former national team nordic combined skier Matt Cook, went for what was supposed to be a short trip into the MacKenzie Mountain wilderness.

“I’ve had some incredible training adventures with Bill,” Burke said. “I remember one in particular maybe eight years ago when Bill contacted me and Matt Cook in the springtime. He said I just want to go out on this little training run. It’s gonna take us maybe a couple hours.

“It was starting to get dark, we had already been out for more than six hours, and I was hoping our parents wouldn’t call the DEC to come look for us yet. Eventually we made it out. We made it out nine hours later – a little bit more than we had all bargained for, but that’s what it was like to train with Bill.”

Burke went on to say that others who trained with Demong could share similar stories, and added that although team coaches may not have agreed with everything the 2010 Vancouver Olympic gold and silver medalist did to prepare, it worked.

“As a fellow athlete, the thing I respected most about Bill’s career was not actually the gold medal and the world championship medals. What I really respect the most is how much he gave back to the nordic community,” Burke said. “Bill would organize these camps with his own time and his own money and bring these young athletes out to train with him to show them that it’s possible to walk in his footsteps. It’s absolutely amazing.

“I would consider you a lifer for sure,” Burke continued. “I know the competition is over, but you’re gonna be involved in nordic sports the rest of your life, and everyone will be better off for it. Thanks for everything you’ve done on the ski course but especially what you’ve done for the next generation by helping them, inspiring them, by stepping up for your sport.”

During his career, Demong incorporated cycling into his nordic combined training efforts while also becoming an elite athlete on that level. In the year leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Demong said he pedaled about 20,000 miles. He now has a full-time job as a marketing representative for a carbon bike wheel manufacturing company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he also is an advocate for nordic combined skiing in the United States, a sport which saw its funding slashed from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association’s budget after Sochi.

“Honestly, I probably would have retired after Vancouver,” Demong said. “I did everything I wanted to do. I’ve been to four Olympics, and I could have been done, but I knew the sport wasn’t ready for that. I decided in 2010 I was going to Sochi. I was ready to be done after Sochi, and then they announced the funding cut and then I ended up in marketing and fundraising, so I skied for one more year.”

Saranac Lake’s Natalie Leduc, a ski historian, stressed the impact that Demong has had on the sport of nordic combined as well as the young skiers in this community.

“Bill Demong has done more for the American sportsman, I believe, than anyone else I know anything about,” LeDuc said. “I was here one day, and there were three little guys pretending to be Billys. Your being here with them gives them an image and a model right in front of their eyes. I just want to thank you from Saranac Lake. It’s wonderful to be so proud of someone, and I am very proud of you.”

In turn, Demong thanked Saranac Lake, especially for the part of the community that helped him become one of the elite skiers in the world.

“This is the first time I’ve been in the completed lodge,” he opened. “Congratulations to everyone in this room who have had so much to do with this. It’s a great place that will continue to allow us to build on the legacy of nordic skiing in this town.

“Without Dewey Mountain, the U.S. Olympic Team will have been short, by my count, at least four of us,” he continued. “This place has produced more elite nordic ski athletes in biathlon, ski jumping and nordic combined than just about any club in America, and it’s a quiet thing that we don’t broadcast across the nation. But it’s something that we all know and take pride in.”

After spending 17 years on the U.S. Ski Team, Demong said he was eager to step away from competing and spend time with his family, as well as move on.

“I’m ready. I’ll miss it most in the winter when I’m thinking about where the guys are and how they’re doing, but I’m ready for sure for a change,” Demong said. “Skiing came to be, toward the end – I knew everything there is to know. I was trying to be innovative, but at the same time, when you’ve done something every way possible, good, bad or indifferent, you get to that point where it became mindless. I was on autopilot.”

In addition to working for Reynolds, a company that sold 70,000 sets of wheels last year, Demong will also be spending time and using his connections to help make sure that the U.S. nordic combined skiers will still have, in part, the opportunities he had to become one of the best in the world, despite the fact that the program’s funding has been nearly eliminated.

“We’re really just transitioning into doing more of our own sponsorship and fundraising,” Demong said describing nordic combined’s current situation in the U.S. “I don’t know where it will all end up but I think the lines are pretty clearly drawn that we’re going to be responsible for ourselves.

“To be honest, I think it’s horrible. They’re (the USSA) the national governing body, and they don’t have a plan as to how they’re going to be competitive in all disciplines. They decided, ‘We really don’t care about ski jumping and nordic combined,’ and I think especially, given the fact that we took a sport from nowhere to like a world-dominating team for a stretch of 10 years – we had individual world champions and a hundred podiums – that’s awful.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s embarrassing and I’m pretty upset because I feel like they cut my legacy. We built that not just so we could be successful but so the U.S. could be successful. We’re in the game. We got guys in the pipeline.”