Americans struggle in large hill event | SteamboatToday.com

Americans struggle in large hill event

Luke Graham

— Billy Demong woke up Tuesday morning, the same tingle rushing through his body as four years ago.

This was going to be his day, he thought. This, the individual Gundersen large hill event, was going to be his shining moment again.

He was, after all, the defending gold medalist. His ability on the jumping hill this week suggested that Demong could do the improbable and win another individual medal.

"Then," Demong said, "a day like today happens, and it throws you for a loop."

Demong, barely holding back tears, was emotional following Tuesday's event, one where the defending gold medalist was 31st, done in by a poor jump in the morning.

It was Demong's last Olympic individual event of his career, a fact the New York native seemed to realize more and more as rain poured down at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

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"I need to digest before I say too much," Demong said. "I swear I woke up feeling like today was the day. I feel great, body-wise. It's devastating really."

Norway's Joergen Graabak won the gold. Countryman Magnus Moan won silver, and Germany's Fabian Riessle earned the bronze.

Fellow Americans Taylor and Bryan Fletcher each had the best Olympic finishes of their careers.

Taylor Fletcher posted the sixth fastest cross-country time and moved from 36th after the jump to finish 20th.

Bryan Fletcher was 22nd.

"Those are the conditions I like to ski in," Taylor Fletcher said about the wet, slushy snow the skiers battled. "I went out and had a great day."

But the story was Demong, an American pioneer in the sport. He won the United States' first-ever gold medal in Nordic sports.

His efforts four years ago in Vancouver were a highlight of those games.

The 33-year-old said he'd likely ski a couple more World Cups after the Olympics. But it slowly started setting in that Tuesday was his last individual event in the Olympics.

Monday, there was a sense around the jumping area that Demong could produce some magic.

He'd been jumping well on the large hill, constantly in the top 20 in training and even jumped into the top 10 several times.

But Tuesday, he couldn't replicate that success.

"When I landed, I knew it wasn't as good," Demong said after his jump. "I saw the scoreboard, and I actually couldn't believe it. I had my mind set I was going to go further than that."

Demong's jump was about 10 meters shorter than the rest of his jumps. He was 18th in the trial round, jumping 126 meters. In the competition round, though, he only jumped 116 meters.

"This is pretty hard," said Demong, noting he was proud of the Fletchers’ efforts. "I go back and forth right now, but it's definitely not a good day for me."

There is, however, one more chance for the Americans. On Thursday, skiers will be back on the large hill for the team event.

Demong and the Fletchers will be joined by six-time Olympian Todd Lodwick, another pioneer in the sport.

It will be the last Olympic event for Demong and Lodwick.

Demong "has almost been like a father to me on the World Cup circuit," said Taylor Fletcher, 23. "He's helped raise me and shoot me in the right direction. He helped me pick out skis. He gave me skis when I was young.

"Our whole entire team has benefited from what he's done," Fletcher continued. "It's the same with Johnny (Spillane) and Todd. We're not the same team without them. We're all grateful for what they've done for us and the sport."

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham