With an unexpected four medals, the U.S. Nordic combined team, and especially Billy Demong, were totally engaged in Vancouver
Billy Demong was cross-country skiing in Colorado last year when he came across an iPhone covered in snow. Miraculously, it still worked, so he found the owner's phone number, called for her address and mailed it to her home in Illinois.
Last Friday, the day after Demong became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined, it was the phone owner's turn to send Demong something—a Starbucks gift card with a congratulatory note. "I didn't know who you were then," she wrote, "but I do now!"
The rest of the U.S. population—except for the few die-hard followers of the Nordic, a combination of ski jumping and cross-country skiing—could say the same thing. Over the last two weeks Demong, 29, and teammates Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota brought Nordic combined out of the Olympic shadows with four medals in three events in Vancouver. Theirs was a stunning performance considering that the U.S. had never won an Olympic medal in the combined before these Games. Demong and Spillane finished one-two in the large hill event, Spillane won a second silver in the normal hill competition, and the U.S. finished second in the four-man team event.
If you're looking for an explanation as to how the U.S. won the medal count in Vancouver—and achieved its highest medal total in a Winter Games—the performance of the Nordic combined team is a good place to start. "People said the Nordic sports were going to have to step up," Lodwick said. "I'm not sure we could have stepped up any more than we did."
Demong's gold in the large hill event was the highlight of the Games for the Nordic team, but it might not be No. 1 on his personal list of Olympic memories. In a 24-hour period he became a gold medalist, was informed he had been chosen to carry the U.S. flag in the closing ceremonies and proposed to his girlfriend, Katie Koczynski.
Demong had been carrying around an engagement ring for two months, waiting for the right moment to pop the question to Koczynski. At a party on Thursday night to celebrate the Nordic team's success, a few hours after winning the gold, Demong grabbed a microphone, called Koczynski to the front of the room and got down on one knee before some 200 teammates, friends and family.
Koczynski put on the ring but was too shocked to verbalize a response. "I never thought he would do something like that," she said later. Like the rest of the world Koczynski found out that her husband-to-be and his Nordic teammates know how to pull off a major surprise.
COMBINATION LOCK Demong (6) won the first U.S. gold in Nordic combined; Spillane added two silvers.