It’s the climb
Far removed from his days as a high school distance standout in New York, Billy Demong is still pretty comfortable in a pair of running shoes.
The 2010 Winter Olympics gold medalist made short work of the fourth annual Olympic Hill Climb last Saturday, climbing 1,000 feet over five kilometers to win in a record time of 21:46.1.
"I used to be a runner," said Demong, who won a state cross country team championship and finished seventh individually at Saranac Lake High School. "That’s what I was good at when I was young. Four years ago, I kind of fell in love with bike riding and stopped running altogether."
Persuaded to break out the road kicks on behalf of the Park City Nordic Ski Club (PCNSC), Demong reclaimed the title he abandoned after the inaugural hill climb in 2007 by dusting Park City High School junior and runner-up Connor Gideon (22:43.1).
"He was pretty far ahead of me," Gideon said. "But hey, getting beat by a gold medalist is all you can ask for."
More than 120 registrants endured blustery winds and looming storm clouds for the races, which also included a 2.5-kilometer variety. PCNSC director Alan Alborn said the event eclipsed its previous attendance record of 100, despite the gloomy forecast.
"The weather definitely was a challenge," Alborn said. "We were worried people might be running up the hill in a snowstorm. Luckily that didn’t happen."
Emma Garrard took home the women’s title in 23:34.0 – the fourth-fastest time overall. Julia Holland was second among women in 25:31.6, while Rolf Figi (23:26.0) was third on the men’s side. Each entrant was treated to a swag bag, prizes, and a Zip-Line ride down to the bottom (after gales subsided enough to open the lift).
Alborn said next year’s event is "90 percent likely" to feature a bike-riding portion, and perhaps even a bike/running team event.
U.S. nordic combined Olympian Taylor Fletcher – another former high school distance prodigy in Steamboat Springs, Colorado – vowed to be there to give Demong an extra push.
"I’m way more of a runner than Billy is," he said at the top of the jumps before giving his teammate a ride down to the base. "It’s good to come out and support the local clubs no matter what club you’re from."
Demong, Vancouver’s large hill champion and team event silver medalist, agreed that Fletcher might well have given him a run for his proverbial money.
"That’s the first thing I told my wife after the race," he said. "Taylor would have dominated me today."
Demong said that it remains his goal to one day run a marathon, but he’ll wait until after his competitive career is over.
In the meantime, he has been consumed by bike racing and is now riding in feverish anticipation of the Tour of Utah and a six-day stage race in Mt. Hood, Oregon. Demong currently races for the Cole Sport Racing team, and although nordic combined remains his top priority, he’s not willing to put a limit on his cycling ambitions.
"I’d like to take it as far as I can," Demong said. "Lately I’ve been getting out to some of the big races, hoping to make to start finishing near the front at the elite level."
As for taking some downtime during the offseason, as many other winter sport athletes are fond of, Demong said he might be opening up to the once-foreign concept.
"This year, I was forced into six weeks of travelling after Vancouver," Demong said. "That’s the first break I’ve had from daily training in years, and it was tough at first, but I can’t honestly say it felt bad."
More results are available online at pcnordicskiclub.org.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”