Steamboat Springs Veteran Nordic combined skier Bill Demong understands stress.
After spending most of the season ranked second in the world, the U.S. Ski Team's top Nordic combined skier landed in the middle of a chaotic points race that wasn't decided until the final event of the season last weekend.
"I still remember when we placed fourth in Salt Lake City," Demong said. "I still remember how depressed I was after that race. I wasn't going to allow myself to feel that way again. I was ready to race as hard as I could Sunday, and when it was over, I was going to embrace whatever happened."
Demong rebounded from a shaky showing in the jumping portion of Sunday's event with the strongest cross-country race of the day. His 21st-place showing helped him hold on to third place in the final World Cup standings - the best-ever Nordic combined World Cup season for an American.
A strong push in the final period by Norway's Petter Tande and Austrian Bernhard Gruber made for an exciting finish. But instead of losing sleep worrying about what would happen Sunday in Olso, Norway, in the final event of the Warsteiner FIS World Cup, Demong said he decided to relax.
The plan sounded good, but after Demong recorded one of his worst jumps of the season, his chances of staying on the podium quickly faded.
"I was really looking forward to getting on the podium, but it got kind of stressful at the end," Demong said Wednesday from his home in Park City, Utah. "I was really relaxed at the top of the jump, and it felt good in the air. But when I landed, I realized that I had only jumped 94 meters, and all I could do was wonder what had just happened."
His once-comfortable lead had evaporated as Tande and Gruber looked to move past the American in the overall standings. Demong knew he needed the race of his life to stay on podium.
"All of a sudden, I was in danger of falling from second to fourth. I knew I needed to score some points and that I would need a strong showing to do it," he said. "When it was over, I was really happy to have won third back."
Demong, who lived and trained in Steamboat Springs before moving to Utah to be closer to the team, posted the fastest cross-country time in Sunday's race, moving from 43rd to 21st in the final results. The finish was good enough to hold off Gruber for third place in the overall standings with 902 total points. The Austrian finished with 894 points. Germany's Ronny Ackermann won the title with 1,174 points, and Tande moved into second with 978. Steamboat's Johnny Spillane finished 19th - it was the first time in several years he has finished an entire season without an injury.
"It was nice to finish the season without an injury," Spillane said. Still, he said he was disappointed he started so strong in the first two events and then struggled to the finish.
"It's hard when you are on the World Cup," Spillane said. "There is not a lot of time to train between events. I got started on a downward spiral, and I just couldn't get off."
However, Spillane was thrilled to see his teammate do so well this season, and he thinks Demong's showing will help the whole team when training resumes. Demong's finish is the best for an American skier. Steamboat native Todd Lodwick was fourth in 1998, 2000 and 2005, but he never got on the podium.
"Bill had an amazing season," Spillane said. "He was the most consistent skier on the tour all year. Some of the other guys scored more points in spurts, but he was strong from start to finish."
Demong also was thrilled with the finish, and he thinks the experience of the past few weeks will be important in the future. He finished on the podium six times this season, including a win in Trondheim, Norway, in December. He was second three times and third twice.
"I learned a lot about myself this season," Demong said. "Early in my career, I was goal-oriented, but I've learned that you have to enjoy the moment. I'm only going to be able to do this for a finite period of time, and if I'm not enjoying it, then it's not worth it."