Americans off pace in 1st Nordic combined event
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — Amidst Russian flags, a packed house and a cloudless day, Billy Demong skied to the starting line Wednesday afternoon at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center knowing he had a tall task at hand.
Demong admitted the proposition in front of him was tough — even improbable — chasing from the 31st position after the morning’s jump in the individual normal hill Gundersen event in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
And in the end, the salty cross-country course was too much for him and the other Americans on Wednesday.
Demong finished 24th, 1 minutes, 24.9 seconds behind eventual winner Eric Frenzel, of Germany.
Japan’s Akito Watabe was second, six seconds behind Frenzel, and Norway’s Magnus Krog was third.
“Unfortunately,” Demong said, “it was a good training day at the Olympics.”
Steamboat skiers Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher were 26th and 33rd, respectively.
The Americans had struggled all week on the jumping hill, stumped by the flat takeoff. It cost them Wednesday as Demong had the best jump but still started 1:33 back.
Demong made up 20 seconds on the leaders in the first lap and looked strong. He and Norwegian skier Mikko Kokslien teamed up to start gaining ground. But on the second lap, Demong got caught in traffic and started to fall off the pace. He spent the third lap trying to catch up, and when he did, it was clear he was spent.
“I blew myself up,” Demong said. “The feeling and sensation up to that point were good.”
The course played a role in the troubles. After days of slushy conditions, officials salted and used chemicals before Wednesday’s race. It created a harder surface, but after a couple of laps, slush was visible.
“There is a section on the back that’s brown,” said Taylor Fletcher, who started last in the jumping portion but posted the 11th-fastest cross-country section. “I don’t know if it’s snow or mud. If they keep salting it, it’s going to be nasty.”
There wasn’t a lot of movement in the cross-country, either, highlighting the importance of a good jump. Of the top 15 on Wednesday, none started more than 1:03 back. Krog, the bronze medalist, was the best, climbing from 20th all the way up to third.
“The whole field has tightened,” Demong said. “Over this year, it’s almost half the time difference between fourth and 40th or 50th on any given day. The time difference is half of what they used to be. … It just shows how much more competitive it’s getting.”
Regardless, the Americans must hit the reset button. The large hill event takes place Tuesday.
All three Americans sounded as if their confidence would be better in six days. Demong is the defending gold medalist in the large hill event, and in last year’s test event, the Americans posted solid results.
Taylor Fletcher was sixth; Bryan Fletcher, 15th; and Demong, 28th.
“We didn’t have our sights set on this hill in particular,” Bryan Fletcher said. “We were more focused on the big hill. Our training up to this has been on the big hill. I don’t want to say it caught us off guard, but it’s not what we were focused on.”
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