Today the U.S. Nordic Combined World Cup Team – Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick, and Johnny Spillane – gave a teleconference from Ramsau, Austria, where they are preparing for this weekend’s World Cup events. They gave insights about the upcoming Olympic trials in Steamboat Springs, their World Cup schedule this season, how they’ve come back from summer injuries, what they are doing to prepare for the Olympic Games, and their excitement for the team’s strength as they head into the season.
The World Cup Team:
Demong and Spillane have been in Europe for several weeks now, their first World Cup in Lillehammer proving a successful start as Demong placed 8th and 14th and Spillane captured a 4th and 6th.
“All in all, for a first race of the year that was a great result,” Demong said, “I think that puts us right on track. We’re always kind of a slow starter team, you know, coming over from North America and sort of getting back in the swing of things in Europe.”
Last weekend’s events in Harrachov (CZE) were cancelled due to weather, so the upcoming series in Ramsau will be only their second World Cup event.
Lodwick has just joined Demong and Spillane in Austria after sweeping the competition at a continental cup in Soldier Hollow. Demong says that the team is “all fired up” to be together. Lodwick agrees, saying that he is more proud of the team now than he has ever been. The three skiers have seen each other grow as athletes, struggle with injuries and other obstacles, and come through as stronger individuals and teammates.
Lodwick said he has seen Demong grow from a young 17 year old at the Nagano Olympics to an international powerhouse, and says Demong is now “not only a teammate but someone that I have to beat, if I want to be the winner – that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing!”
Spillane also has good things to say about the team dynamic.
“You have a bunch of guys that are at a similar level – it’s always good that you can just continue to push each other each day, and everybody build offs each other,” Spillane says, “If one guy’s not skiing well, somebody else will be and as long as somebody is skiing well, the whole group will continue to get better.”
Trials in Steamboat Springs:
After competing in Ramsau the three will return to Steamboat Springs for the U.S. Olympic Trials. The winner of the event will be given an automatic ticket to the Olympics.
“I think everyone’s kind of going into it hoping to do really well, but our focus is further down the road than that, said Spillane. He said they do not have to be as concerned with the trials because the combined team has an Olympic selection process which is more of a rolling total of all World Cup points from the past year, and is not determined just by the trial results.
One reason they are looking forward to trials is that the team will have a local event where they can show the hometown crowd their form. “We’re looking forward to having everyone come down,” Spillane said, “We don’t get to demonstrate our sport enough in the states. . . it will be fun to compete at home more than anything.”
Lodwick adds that the excitement of the trials has a lot to do with the location. He touts the strong vibe of Olympic spirit and tradition that has earned Steamboat its nickname of “Ski Town USA.”
Preparation for Olympics:
Demong said that the team is taking a slightly different approach to this season in that they will race less overseas and spend more time at home in order to get the type of training they need for a physical peak in time for the Games.
“I think we’re a pretty experienced team,” Demong explained, “and we’re just doing enough competitions this year basically to get ready to go for the Olympics and then we’re really focused on being in the kind of shape that will help us get medals in Vancouver.”
After a short Christmas break the three will head back over to Europe for another period of World Cups, after which they will return to Park City to train and sharpen up their speed, both by working outdoors and indoors on the rollerski treadmill. In missing a chunk of the World Cup season for Olympic preparation Demong says “we’ll sort of sacrifice the ‘shoulders of the season’ but we’ll be able to put forth our very best performances for those two weeks.”
Coming back from Injury: Demong and Spillane
Demong is still recovering from a shoulder injury he experienced while rollerskiing this October, a fracture of the rotator cuff where it attaches to the bone. He said it has been more of a “nagging” injury that has limited his range of motion and made him unable to do certain overhead lifts.
“Basically, it just adds to my daily routine, it’s an additional challenge,” Demong said.
Demong can classic ski just fine, but skating is “definitely bothersome,” and he tried shortening his poles to relieve some of the pain. He received a cortisone injection which brought down the inflammation and gave him more range of motion, but he says the most help has been the opportunity to work with physical therapists and orthopedic specialists while on the road.
“As far as skiing speed is concerned its really not a great factor right now,” Demong said of the injury, “At the rate we’re at, by the Olympics I’ll probably be 100% healed.”
Spillane is also dealing with a recent injury. This July he pulled the medial meniscus in his right leg while jumping. He had to go into surgery both in August and October (the first surgery did not correct the problem) and spent the next month in physical therapy, getting the knee and leg back to full strength as quickly as possible. Because he spent several months out of training Spillane said he “went into this season and into this first period without any real expectations.”
Before the injury he felt he was jumping well, and before the season started he was able to do enough training to know he was close – although not quite there - to being in shape for skiing. But his two top-ten results at the World Cup opener in Lillehammer surprised him.
“Overall I’m really pleased,” said Spillane of his first races, “I was – and still am – using it as a building period to get back into what I feel is good shape.”
The Difference in Competition this season:
Demong believes that with the team’s success and their relatively strong skiing ability, other nations have been focusing more on their own skiing fitness and as a result the cross country portion of the sport is getting faster. “It hasn’t necessarily changed the game, but it definitely has tightened the field,” he said, “It’s a tight race, and that adds to the drama for sure.”
Another major difference Lodwick points out, is that the U.S. team will be heading into the season as the team to beat.
“We have a target on our back and I think that I can speak for the three of us that we kind of like it that way,” Lodwick said, “Its gonna be a very interesting and exciting Olympic games for Team USA Nordic combined.”
There’s no “I” in Team
Lodwick has the potential to be the first American skier to go to five Olympic Games, but said that the Games will have more meaning to him not because of that fact, but because of his teammates. “I couldn’t be the athlete I am and have the results that I have without my teammates pushing me and me pushing my teammates.”
Taking some time off from the sport and dealing with injury made Demong realize how much he loved the sport, being a professional athlete, and being a part of a successful team.
“Creating this legacy of success in nordic combined with Todd and Johnny – it’s a very fulfilling place to be and I think having been through so many struggles, been through so many years of slowly getting better, definitely makes me appreciate that success much more.”