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."
His sport's increasing popularity isn't the only change Demong has seen in his year's competing at the international level. The rapid rise of social media and Internet technology has made the world a smaller place - a comforting thought for an athlete who spends a third of his year traveling abroad.
"It's been huge; I remember when I first went to Europe it was hard to even find a payphone that you could figure out how to call home on," Demong said. "Now, every day you can make some sort of contact. Between Twitter, Facebook or a blog of some sort, you can let the world know what you're doing. I think it's changed the world and made everything a bit smaller and made our sports easier to follow over here. It's really exciting."
For those looking to follow Demong as he competes inVancouver, he'll be utilizing some of that social networking technology to keep his fans up-to-date.
"You can find me on Twitter, and our team has a blog at usnoco.com," Demong said. "Our coaches and athletes like to update it from time-to-time with some great pictures and video."
And for his part, Demong hopes to send a one-word "tweet" to his fans following the 2010 Winter Olympics: