KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - When Billy Demong woke up Tuesday morning, he felt really good about his chances of earning a medal in the same Olympic nordic combined race he won four years ago in Vancouver.
But when he could only land the 38th-best effort in the jumping part of the competition, the five-time Olympian's hopes of reaching the podium basically vanished.
In the final individual Olympic race of his career, Demong finished 31st in the large hill, 10-kilometer nordic combined event at the RusSki Gorki Center.
Bill Demong skis during Tuesday's 10-kilometer large hill nordic combined competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Photo by Lou Reuter
The 33-year-old native of Vermontville, who medaled twice at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, started the cross-country ski 2 minutes and 18 seconds back after finishing with a jump that was 23 meters short of the the top effort of the day, 139.5 meters by Germany's Eric Frenzel.
Then in the cross-country race, Demong, who is one of nordic combined's fastest skiers, only had the 25th-best time, picking off just seven skiers along the way.
"I swear I woke up feeling like today was the day, and right up until I landed that comp jump I didn't see anything coming," Demong said. "I feel great body-wise and everything. It's kind of devastating really. It was my shortest jump in the last few days by 10 meters. Nothing felt that bad; nothing looked that bad. I need to figure out what went wrong today.
"I think I'm old enough and wise enough to be able to have expectations and follow through on them, and a day like today happens, and it kind of throws you for a loop," Demong added. "I swear I felt the same tingle today that I did in Vancouver."
Demong also finished behind his two other United States teammates in the race, brothers Taylor and Bryan Fletcher, who wound up in 20th and 22nd place, respectively.
Two skiers from Norway took top honors, with Joergen Graabak claiming the gold and Magnus Hovdal Moan winning the silver. Germany's Fabian Kircheisen took the bronze.
The win was the first on a big stage for Graabak, who headed into the Olympics with no World Cup victories to his credit. He won with the sixth-best jump and 12th-fastest ski time of the competition.
Demong's finished the 10k race in 23:23.3, which put him 2:13.8 off Graabak's winning time. Moan was just sixth-tenths of a second behind in the runner-up spot, and Riessle finished third, 1.6 seconds back.
"If I had been 10th or something, sure, it would have been easier to shrug it off," Demong said. "As it is, it's like, why do I feel what I would deem perfect and be that far out? It's kind of frustrating for sure."
One factor Demong did talk about was the improvement in the caliber of nordic combined athletes in recent years.
"Everything has gotten a lot tighter than even four years ago, and especially 10 years ago," Demong said. "You can throw the entire field inside what used to be the gap between the first five. Everybody is faster, and everybody is jumping at a higher level.
"You could take this same field and reshuffle the deck, and there's going to be a day that maybe I could be on the podium," Demong continued. "I think there are a lot of guys out here who could win. Like Joergen said to me when I congratulated him, 'This is my first victory. There's a lot of talent out here."
Demong will have one more race in his Olympic career when the team relay takes place on Thursday. He will join the Fletcher brothers and Todd Lodwick, a six-time Olympian who jumped Tuesday but did not ski in the 10k. Lodwick is nursing a shoulder injury suffered in January and is concentrating on the relay.
Although the team relay will be the last Olympic appearance for Demong, he plans to compete in more World Cup events this season.
"There's been a little talk of maybe doing some races. I'm going to race in a couple of weeks in Norway, but as far as Olympics are concerned, this is pretty much it. It's kind of rough. It's definitely not a good day for me.
"If anything, I'm kind of proud of the Fletchers. I think Taylor had his best jump of the week. They both shrugged off a jump that didn't put them in contention, and put their heads down and had a great race. It's my job to turn that corner, too, and be prepared for what could be a whole new day Thursday."