Whistler, British Columbia Nordic combined skiing never has been hotter.
From the dominance at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, to the past two weeks at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, exposure to the sport never has been better.
But what will it take to continue the success? That might be the biggest question as things move forward.
“It really is,” said Billy Demong, who won the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s first Olympic gold medal Thursday in the individual large hill Gundersen event. “It’s how to take this success and turn it into a permanent fixture, not only in the Olympics, but in year in, year out success in World Championships.”
Although the sport has a huge following in nations such as Norway, Finland, Germany and Austria, it’s a fringe sport to most in the States.
But what happened at the 2010 games can only help. Media coverage of the U.S. team went from little to big Tuesday in the team event.
“I think it has been building over the past five to 10 years,” Demong said. “We knew we had three guys who could medal on any given day. What started it off was Johnny (Spillane’s) silver.”
Demong said earlier during the Olympics that the United States’ success was the best thing that could happen. He said the next generation always wants to outdo the previous one. That’ll be tough to do, but the standard certainly has been set.
“This helps us push,” said Taylor Fletcher, who at 19 was the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s youngest and greenest athlete at the Olympics. “This helps us push. It’s going to help them come to training every day, every week and whole year. It shows what we’ve done is really working.”
Demong, Spillane and Todd Lodwick have done what they can to promote the sport, but it’s bridging the gap to Fletcher and the next generation that will provide the needed continuity.
Part of that’s setting goals, which Demong, Spillane and Lodwick did before the 2009 World Championships. The team wanted individual and team hardware at the Vancouver games.
“You can go back and look at them,” Lodwick said. “We’ve accomplished every single goal we set out on this list.”
It starts at the lowest level, Demong said. It takes funding and a solid program, good coaches and hard work.
Is it possible? Yes, Demong said.
“It’s an exciting sport,” he said. “I hear more and more people, and it’s not because we’re doing well, but more people are coming out to watch.
“They’re saying the same thing: ‘I love this sport.’ I’ve seen different articles in newspapers and online the last couple days and weeks as it becomes more mainstream. That popularity is important for our sport. What’s going to continue this success and keep it exciting for Americans is the same developmental programs Johnny, Todd and I came out of.”
Programs like that of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
“I grew up in Steamboat,” Spillane said. “It’s cool to see so many different Olympians in so many different sports. I got into the club in 1998, and you see so many successful skiers from Steamboat. I can remember seeing (mogul silver medalist) Travis Mayer win his medal in 2002. … To be in that environment breeds success. A lot of people came to that environment to be successful.”
Demong, Spillane and Lodwick all said they’d like to ski in the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway. After that, they were uncommitted about what’s next.
One thing is clear, however. They’ve set the bar high for the next generation of Nordic combined athletes. What those athletes do with it remains to be seen.
“This really will help get more money and support,” Demong said. “I guess we’ll just have to see where it goes from here.”