After leaving a site ‘near Taco Bell,’ USA Nordic is in a good position for Cortina |

After leaving a site ‘near Taco Bell,’ USA Nordic is in a good position for Cortina

USA Nordic’s Annika Malacinski, 18, right, competes in the women’s Nordic combined Continental Cup in Park City last December. USA Nordic’s junior teammates will be in their mid 20s in 2026.
Tanzi Propst

Out of all the American teams cheering for the selection of the Italy Olympics in 2026, USA Nordic perhaps has reason to cheer the loudest.

The venues are storied for USA Nordic teams – ski jumping and Nordic combined – and the U.S. athletes have had some of their best moments there. More generally, the team will likely be as well positioned as it ever has going into an Olympic Games.

Billy Demong, executive director of USA Nordic, said the Cortina venue, Val de Fieme, is a good one for the Yankees.

Among other successes, it’s where Parkite Sarah Hendrickson won the ski jumping World Ski Championships in 2013 and the U.S. took bronze in the team event. It was also one of Demong’s last World Cup podium finishes of his career and where John Spillane won the first Nordic World Ski Championship gold medal for the U.S. in any discipline – a gold in the men’s Nordic Combined 7.5K sprint in 2003.

“We have a lot of history there,” Demong said. “We have a lot of friends there.”

And while every team always hopes to be at their peak for any Olympics, that might just be true for the Americans.

The national governing body has been expanding its teams, raising its sports’ profiles in the U.S. and has partnered with a Park City photographer, giving it a true marketing department for the first time since U.S. Ski and Snowboard stopped funding Nordic sports in 2014.

New faces

Last season it added junior national teams for each of its four disciplines – men’s and women’s ski jumping and men’s and women’s Nordic combined. The team added 28 juniors to its official USA roster in hopes of getting the best young U.S. athletes engaged with the team at an age when there is typically a lot of attrition in the sport.

A spot on the junior national team allows the younger athletes to train with the U.S. team, get a feel for international competition, and meet their international peers.

“A big part of it is cultural,” Demong said. “We want to be able to funnel athletes into the national team who already know what it means to be a pro – they already have been involved in sports psychology, they already have experience with sports nutrition, they’ve already been through testing, they know where they need to improve.”

Last season, Parkite Greyson Scharffs, now 17, made the first-ever USA Nordic junior national ski jumping team along with seven other boys and eight girls. His generation will likely be hitting its stride in Cortina, having reached their mid-20s.

The team is also starting to cash in on a five-year campaign to grow the sport, mainly through camps like the Springer Tournee, which draws youth and junior competitors from around the country to Park City in late July.

“The number of kids participating in ski jumping and Nordic combined in the U.S. has almost doubled over a six- to seven-year period,” Demong said.

When asked what he thought was the cause for that jump, Demong pointed emphatically at the USA Nordic logo on his shirt.

“Because we have a very focused effort from the top down and the bottom out,” he added.

USA Nordic had hired a coach specifically for sport development who helps organize tournaments across the East and Midwest and shares best practices with member clubs, which are more numerous in the eastern U.S. They have also restructured their coaching positions to help those athletes once they come on board.

Say cheese

Another part of that strategy requires media, which is why it made sense for the governing body to move into the photo studio of Ben Pieper in the Silver Summit building in Kimball Junction.

USA Nordic had been hopping around for the last few years – three years in what Demong called a “closet” in Bear Hollow, followed by a short stint at a location on the other side of Kimball Junction.

USA Nordic had worked with Pieper to photograph competitions, and Demong and Pieper started talking seriously about a collaboration after women’s ski jumping came under USA Nordic’s purview in 2017. (It was previously organized by Women’s Ski Jumping USA, a Park City-based nonprofit, which now serves mainly as a fundraiser for athletes).

Nine months ago, USA Nordic moved into part of the space while Pieper maintained his studio, which works with USA Nordic on a semi-contractual basis while still taking work from other sources.

“At first it was kind of like a bull in a china shop, but it’s good,” Pieper said of the team moving in.

On Wednesday, Pieper took headshots of 32 USA Nordic athletes, both on the senior and junior teams. The space had three photo stations set up in the back of a tall, open office adorned with black walls, lights and umbrellas.

Before, media was handled mainly by coaches and athletes.

“This adds a whole other layer that most organizations of our size can’t offer,” Demong said. “Like, ‘Oh, your brand is spending money on video? We can throw that in with the contract.’ If they want more stuff, hey, we know a guy.”

Pieper’s video capabilities have allowed USA Nordic to add live streams of a quality that media outlets are actually interested in. Their feeds have run on Park City TV as well as stations in Wisconsin and Vermont.

That said, USA Nordic still only has two full-time U.S. non-coaching employees, so the crew still shares a lot of responsibilities.

“Half the time, someone orders a Nike shirt and it’s like, who’s going to ship it?” Demong said, placing his finger on his nose.

As for the Olympics, Demong said only hosting a local Olympics would have been a better prospect for the U.S. team.

“I was still a little bit bummed that we (Salt Lake City) weren’t ‘26, but we knew we weren’t going to be ‘26,” Demong said. “Now, digesting it, yeah, it’s a good place for us, for sure.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User