American Nordic combined team hopes for continued success | SteamboatToday.com

American Nordic combined team hopes for continued success

American Nordic combined skier Johnny Spillane gets some training in while back home in Steamboat Springs last week. Spillane and teammate Bill Demong are off to a fast start in the World Cup tour - each earned several top-20 finishes in the tour's first period, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 16. The tour continues after the holidays.

Steamboat Springs — American Nordic combined skiers Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong are back home this week celebrating the holidays with family and friends. — American Nordic combined skiers Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong are back home this week celebrating the holidays with family and friends.

— American Nordic combined skiers Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong are back home this week celebrating the holidays with family and friends.

A short break in the World Cup tour has given the pair a chance to sit back and celebrate one of the best starts for the U.S. Ski Team’s Nordic combined squad since skiers started using the “V” technique to increase the distance on the jump hill.

“This is our best start by far,” Demong said. “But I don’t feel like we’ve done anything special, yet. We’ve had some good results. But we haven’t had our best day on the jump hill, and I know that we can ski better. There’s still a lot of work we can do to improve.”

The Americans have made the podium four straight times since March, when Demong finished third in a sprint event in Olso, Norway. The team collected three podiums in six events in the opening period of the 2007-08 season, and is hoping to carry that momentum into the second period, which opens in late December with the first event of German Grand Prix.

“It’s a fun event,” Spillane said. “You might have 25,000 to 30,000 people out for one event. The atmosphere is great and it’s a lot of fun.”

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The Nordic combined World Cup Tour is split into three periods, which make up the season. The first period began Nov. 30, ended Dec. 16 and included six events. The second period runs from Dec. 30 through Jan. 27, 2008, and includes nine events. The final period starts Feb. 15 and runs through March 9.

So during the skiers’ seven-day break, the Americans are hoping to rest and recharge. But don’t be surprised if Spillane and Demong continue to work and train as they look forward to more top results in the second and third periods.

“Sure I’m happy to be back home. I’m glad that I get a few days to hang out with my family and friends during the holiday,” Demong said. “But I’m psyched to get back at it, and I’ll be ready to go when the break is over.”

All systems go

Demong has stepped into a leadership role after winning an individual Gundersen event in Trondheim, Norway, earlier this month. He also has posted a third-place finish in Kuusamo, Finland, and three other top-10 finishes in the first of three periods on the World Cup Schedule.

Not to be outdone, Spillane opened the season with second- and sixth-place finishes in Kuusamo and has three other top-20 finishes.

“Everything feels really good right now,” Spillane said. “I’m healthy, and feel like I’m skiing pretty well right now.”

Spillane said the American’s team success in the first period has been the result of a strong connection with his teammate.

“It’s kind of a game,” Spillane said. “I’ve been friends with Billy for a long time. This season, we’ve kind of gone back and forth with one another. We push each other on the road, and we build off each other’s success.”

Demong agrees and also thinks that American Nordic combined fans should expect to see more solid finishes when the second period of the World Cup opens with an individual Gundersen event in Oberhof, Germany, on Dec. 30. The second period will take the American skiers on the road for more than a month and includes nine different events.

“I think we have 24 World Cup events this season,” Spillane said. “It’s a grueling schedule where we move from event to event.”

Spillane said it’s more difficult this season because the skiers are not building toward a World Championship or Olympic event. But that doesn’t mean the World Cup finishes are not important.

“A lot of athletes might look at the schedule and say ‘Well, it’s just another World Cup,'” Spillane said. “But every World Cup is important, and every competition is an opportunity to win, to grow as a team.”

The top American finishes means more money and support from sponsors and the U.S. Ski Team as the skiers work toward the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Canada.

Demong said the team’s success this season has been the result of hard work and a good training program. But it’s also been the result in a change in the approach both skiers have had to the events.

“We used to go to bed at night hoping that we might be on the podium the next day,” he said. “Now, we go to bed the night before the event expecting to be on the podium the next day. The truth is that Johnny and I are at a point where we can win on any given day, and that’s what we expect.”