Nordic athletes gain confidence | ParkRecord.com

Nordic athletes gain confidence

About everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in preparation for the weekend’s Nordic Combined Continental Cup events in Park City.

A general lack of snow made for difficult circumstances, with the cross-country portions of the competitions moved from Soldier Hollow to Gorgoza Park. Because of that change, only two competitions were held, instead of the scheduled three.

Then, on Friday afternoon, athletes waited nearly an hour to start the jumping portion of the second competition, due to high winds at the Utah Olympic Park.

But, when all was said and done, two competitions were completed and Team USA was happy with the results.

Though five-time Olympian Billy Demong wasn’t thrilled with his individual performance, he said the team showed great progress over the weekend.

"Taylor Fletcher had a good weekend and skied well on Saturday," he said. "And the younger guys got good experience, some of them scoring international points for the first time ever."

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Demong also gave props to event organizers for finding a way to host the competitions.

"I think it was a really successful event," he said. "Being able to pull it off anywhere in a year like this was impressive."

Demong, who ran the New York City Marathon in November and finished with a time of 2 hours, 33 minutes and 5 seconds, was disappointed with his results.

"I think I underestimated how long it takes to recover from a marathon," he said. "It’s taking time to get the specificity and fitness back, and the intensity. [Nordic combined] is a much higher intensity than a marathon."

Though both require high levels of endurance, Demong noted that marathon running doesn’t push one’s heart rate quite as high for quite as long as the sprinting and uphill portions of cross-country racing. A marathoner’s heart rate is more of a plateau whereas a Nordic combined racer’s heart rate chart would show major peaks and valleys.

"I think, even though I’m a 20-year veteran, it was a good wake-up call to what Nordic combined is all about," Demong said.

Fletcher led the Americans over the weekend, finishing in eighth place on Friday and fifth place on Saturday.

"Taylor will be coming back with confidence," he said. "Anything is possible if he jumps well. Even if he jumps to 40th place, he can still finish in the top 10 — he’s that good a skier."

Demong finished 13th on Friday and 17th on Saturday. Michael Ward had the best weekend of the non-Olympians, finishing 24th on Friday and 28th on Saturday.

Heading into a World Cup competition in Austria this weekend, Demong added that the team expects big things from Bryan Fletcher, who recently finished in eighth place at a World Cup event. Fletcher sat out this weekend’s events to give the younger team members a chance to prove themselves in international competition.

"Bryan got eighth, but he was sprinting for the podium," Demong said. "We’d like to see him reach that this weekend."

This weekend’s competitions will take place on Saturday and Sunday in Ramsau, Austria.