John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Who cares if Bill Demong seems like a nice, all-American sports hero? Why should anyone notice that he's worked harder than a bartender at a Cancun nightspot during spring break, or that he's more committed to his sport than Silda Wall Spitzer, the wife of former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, has been to her husband the past few weeks?
Does it really matter that he's been to the Winter Olympics three times or that he won the silver medal in the 15-kilometer individual event at the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, Japan?
It's a sad statement, but unless he's in the running for a gold medal at the Olympic Games, most Americans just don't care about guys like Demong.
Last week, the 27-year-old athlete who used to live in Steamboat Springs stepped on the podium honoring the overall World Cup Nordic combined leaders in Oslo, Norway. There were only two skiers in the world that were better than Demong this season, and who would complain about sharing the steps with the likes of German Ronny Ackermann and Petter Tande of Norway?
But for some reason, the story never made it on SportsCenter.
It's too bad, because Demong's journey is one of the best comeback stories I've covered.
He overcame the disappointment of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, when it looked like the Americans would glide onto the podium in the 4x5-kilometer team event but ended up looking as if they were stuck in cement in the race.
Demong said the disappointment of letting the medal slip away left a hangover that was hard to overcome.
"Some of those guys still call me and want to talk about it," former coach Tom Steitz says. "It took Billy a year and a half to get over what happened there. It was a low point, but I think he and the rest of those guys all grew from the experience."
But that wasn't the only life-changing moment Demong faced in 2002.
In August, the Nordic combined skier was hospitalized in Kassel, Germany, after sustaining a skull fracture in a swimming accident. The life-threatening injury sidelined Demong for a year, but it didn't hold him back.
Since returning, he has won the silver at the World Championships and placed third in the world.
In a country filled with sports stars who are constantly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, Demong has forged one of the best stories by doing the right thing - mostly in the shadows.
Demong has emerged from the disappointment of Salt Lake City and the near-death experience in Germany with a new outlook on life. And it shows.
He's no longer driven by the goals he sets for himself or the results he earns, but simply by enjoying every minute he gets to compete. That's why his story is so good, and it's why we should all care.