Billy Demong grew up in New York, not terribly far from Lake Placid, and now resides in Utah where he trains as a member of the U.S. Ski Team as part of the Nordic combined squad competing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Demong won the gold medal and was part of the four-man U.S. team that won the silver medal Nordic team competition. Nordic combined involves athletes competing in cross-country skiing and ski jumping. A four-time Olympian, he has been skiing competitively for about 28 years and about 17 internationally.
In all, the U.S. Nordic men’s team won four medals in Vancouver, a major feat in a sport that has been dominated by Norway and Finland. The U.S. team competes Feb. 18 in Sochi in the Individual Large Hill event and Feb. 20 in the Team Large Hill event.
Demong finished 24th in the “normal hill” portion of the Nordic events on Feb. 12. Medal success may be tough in these Olympics, as two of the 2010 team members are retired, Demong is retiring after the Sochi Olympics and another member, Todd Lodwick, a Mossy Oak camouflage pro-staffer and hunter, has battled a shoulder injury this season.
When he’s not training, Demong also hunts and enjoys other outdoors activities. Last autumn, Demong talked with Deer & Deer Hunting about training as an elite athlete, his passion for the outdoors and his love of hunting.
What is it like training at such an elite level for world and Olympic events?
It’s kind of an endless process. The bummer about the training and trips in autumn is it’s during bow season in Utah. Between training and family, some other things got pushed to the back burner and hunting’s been one of them the last few years. That’s OK, though, because when I’m done skiing I’ll have plenty of time to go.
When did you start hunting?
I grew up in upstate New York and my father was the fisheries manager for a 27,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve. They mostly had trout, and we were up there just about every day fly fishing and being outside. They also had deer there, and game birds. I did some upland hunting for woodcock and other birds.
When I moved west for training I was living with Johnny Spillane and his family was pretty big into elk hunting. I don’t remember exactly when it was but it probably was when the Primos Truth Big Bulls videos were hitting and that kind of got us jacked about chasing those big ones. When I lived in Steamboat (Colorado) we would hunt ducks in the morning, then go to training, then go fly fishing, then more training, and sometimes we’d take about two weeks when we could and go bowhunting like hell. It was a pretty good schedule.
Not so much the last few years, though, right?
The last few years in Utah, though, have been pretty busy and something had to give. For me that was hunting, and that’s fine. We’ve been building a house and getting a family started here in Utah, and along with training ramping back up it’s been busy. It was tough to put hunting on the back burner but I still shoot my bow in the yard now and then. I don’t think it’s just something you do on the spur of the moment; hunting involves being prepared right, scouting and knowing your area, and then it takes time.
Is there a competitive aspect with hunting and athletes?
Yeah, especially with athletes and bowhunting I think it is. With the elk, for example, you’re going early to listen for bugling and then if you don’t hear anything you’re spotting and glassing. You might see something three miles away and you’re just about sprinting there. We tell our coaches it’s good exercise.
What’s it like being on the medal podium and knowing you’re the best in the world, or one of the top three individuals or teams? What goes through your mind while they’re playing the national anthem? That has to be pretty emotional and gratifying.
Having grown up near Lake Placid and knowing the stories about the Miracle on Ice and Eric Heiden, you start flashing to those moments that define each of us. For me was Dan Jansen winning gold and even the great performances of some of the non-Americans, those highlights and great moments. For me it was just flashing all those moments of human greatness. It was a mixture but was all good stuff.
There also was a deep feeling of satisfaction. I had been skiing about 12 years internationally as a professional and being there, on the podium (in Vancouver), it was just satisfying to think about all those training days and travel days. All that time put in over the years. But I believe it would have been worth it anyway because we know life is about the journey, just like hunting … there’s magic in the chase.
Do you prefer a bow or gun?
I shoot a Hoyt bow and have a Sako .308, an older gun that has been my go-to gun. Either one is fine but I really enjoy bowhunting.
What is it about hunting that you enjoy?
With elk, there’s something about interacting with an animal that screams at you. I have been so close to elk and sometimes they’re 5-10 feet away. I like hunting whitetail deer back east, too, real slow, stalk hunting. That’s just a cool way to hunt and connect with them. I have only been a few times on mule deer with some friends who showed me some things, but since I’m young I’ll have plenty of time to add those.
(U.S. Ski Team)
Gold, Individual Gunderson, LH, Vancouver, 2010
Silver, NC Team, Vancouver, 2010
Gold, Individual Gunderson, LH, Liberec, CZE, 2009
Silver, Individual Gunderson, NH, Sapporo, JPN, 2007
Bronze, NC Team, Val di Fiemme, ITL, 2013
Bronze, Mass start, large hill Liberec, CZE, 2009
22 World Cup podiums, including 9 wins (through 2013 season)
3rd, World Cup standings, 2009
3rd, World Cup standings, 2008
U.S. CHAMPIONSHIPS TITLES
Nordic combined, Fox River Grove, IL, 2012
Nordic combined, Park City, UT, 2008
Nordic combined, Park City, UT, 2007
NH ski jumping, Steamboat Springs, CO 2007
LH ski jumping, Steamboat Springs, CO 2007
Nordic combined, Steamboat Springs, CO 2002
Nordic combined, Park City, UT, 2001
LH ski jumping, Park City, UT, 2001
The 2013 season saw Demong compete and push his teammates to new levels. Demong anchored a solid full-team performance to win bronze in the nordic combined team event at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. It was the first ever full-team event medal for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team at any World Championships.