KUUSAMO, Finland (Nov. 30) – World Championships medalists Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) and Bill Demong (Vermontville, NY) skied into the top 10 Friday in the season's first World Cup nordic combined event. Spillane was second – his best result in nearly five years – and Demong seventh. Each credited extra training time in Kuusamo for their performance.
Ronny Ackerman of Germany led silver medalist Demong to the finish line by 8.5 seconds in the individual combined event last March at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Friday, he won individual event by 13.4 seconds over 2003 sprint world champion Spillane. Demong had the second-fastest 15K race and moved from 13th after jumping into seventh place, 25.8 seconds back of Ackermann this time.
“We all know what Billy can do,” Head Coach Lasse Ottesen said, “but this just proves what we've said: if Johnny's healthy, he can be back on the podium and he can win. It's still early in the season. This is only one competition but the guys know they're on track.”
It's Spillane's top result since the 2003 season when he had three podiums in 48 hours in Trondheim, Norway, in addition to his World Championships gold medal. He was second in a sprint, third in an individual event on the second day and third in another sprint Dec. 6-8, 2002 in Trondheim.
Dramatic comeback for Spillane
“It's definitely satisfying,” Spillane said, a clear reference to all of his work coming back from injuries every season since winning the sprint gold medal in 2003. “I'm healthy and I can ski.” He manages the physical side with daily help from Aaron Saari, team trainer for the last couple of seasons, as he stages his comeback.
Spillane and Demong, the two U.S. skiers on the World Cup, left training in Steamboat Springs and came to Kuusamo earlier than originally planned. It was their first time back on snow since the end of last season.
“We didn't do anything special in jumping, in fact it wasn't as good as training yesterday, especially in the first round of jumping. But we improved on the second round.
“We know we've got more to give. I'm psyched with my placing and race time,” Demong said, “but I know we can both do better. This is just a start.”
He added, “It was great to have a full week to take our time, take our first jumps when the conditions were good and not stress too much if it was windy. We got in some good jumping and we had some good relaxing.”
Coach: “They're leaders…”
Taking advantage of the flexible training plan, Ottesen said they showed their experience by dealing calmly with the change in training. “They're leaders. They're experienced and they don't get too stressed if things aren't perfect. That's the maturity of veterans.”
“It worked out well. It's always hard coming into this [142-meter] hill – or any other big hill – because it's so big. We were in Steamboat for training, which was awesome and we had good training, but we hadn't been on snow since March, and if you can get on a big hill, you do it. We had one really good training day, which was so good,” Spillane said.
Last season, winds wiped out one of the scheduled events in Kuusamo and previous seasons have seen winds, rain, biting cold. This year, recent snows have created excellent jumping and cross country conditions. “And no winds – I've never seen it like this,” Demong said.
The Nordic Opening weekend continues Saturday with a combined sprint event, one jump on the big hill and a 7.5K race.
2008 WARSTEINER NORDIC COMBINED WORLD CUP
Kuusamo, FIN – Nov. 30, 2007
1. Ronny Ackermann, Germany, (6/10)
2. Johnny Spillane, Steamboat Springs, CO, (13/5) 13.4 seconds back
3. Christoph Bieler, Austria, (10/9) 14.3
4. Eric Frenzel, Germany, (7/11) 14.9
5. Anssi Koivuranta, Finland, (3/16) 19.4
7. Bill Demong, Vermontville, NY, (17/2) 25.8