LAKE PLACID - It's been more than a decade since Vermontville-native Bill Demong flew half-way around the world to compete in his first Winter Olympics.
Demong was just 17 years old when he was tapped to represent the U.S. Nordic Combined team in Nagano, Japan. Now, at 29, he's qualified for the fourth time and is ready to make history as the first U.S. athlete from his sport to take home an Olympic medal.
Demong rounded out his 2008-09 season with a gold medal at the World Championships in the Czech Republic, and joins four-time Olympian Todd Lodwick on the U.S. Olympic Nordic Combined team.
Eleven athletes from the U.S. will battle it out for the two remaining spots on the team at the FIS Continental Cup being held Dec. 19 and 20 in Lake Placid.
Demong said the Americans are going into Vancouver with one of their strongest teams to date.
"Quite honestly, I'm really excited to see who's going to fill out our team because we've got a lot of strong competitors and some young guys pushing to make the team. It's going to be exciting."
Nordic sports like ski jumping, biathlon and cross-country skiing have never enjoyed the same popularity in the U.S. as they have throughout Europe and Russia. But the rise of the nordic combined team coupled with strong performances from biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey - also native upstate New Yorkers - has resulted in increased attention on nordic sports.
Last winter, Demong appeared in a televised ad for Alka Selzter, and this fall he's featured as one of NBC's top 25 Olympians to watch in Vancouver. But Demong's experience helps him stay focused.
"It's been kind of a crazy year," Demong said. "This being my fourth Olympics already, you get kind of used to the pre-Olympic hype."