U.S. Wins Its First Nordic Combined Gold

There are many stories of great U.S. success at the 2010 Winter Olympics, but none may be greater than the gold medal in Nordic Combined. Bill Demong won gold Thursday, the first U.S. gold in any Nordic sport, since the winter games began 86 years ago. Helen Demong, Bill Demong's mother, talks about seeing her son bring home the gold.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

At the Vancouver Olympics, it's possible the biggest, brightest smile today belongs to 29-year-old Bill Demong of Vermontville, New York. Yesterday, he won gold in the Nordic combined. That's ski jumping followed by cross country. It's the first time the U.S. has won gold in any Nordic sport since the winter games began 86 years ago, and it caps a stellar Olympics for the entire U.S. Nordic Combined Team, which had never won any Olympic medals before. It goes home with four.

Well, basking in her son's glow is Bill Demong's mother, Helen, who joins us from Whistler. Helen, congratulations. This must be an amazing day for you.

Ms. HELEN DEMONG: This is just an amazing day. Last night we were able to share in Bill's golden moment. And I have to tell you, when they announced the bronze medalist and then silver medalist Johnny Spillane and gold medalist Bill Demong, the tears started flowing, and then the three flags start going up, our national anthem. It was overwhelming.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the very end of that 10K cross-country race yesterday. Bill started 46 seconds back. He had to make up that time, and he did, and coming into the stadium at the very end, he peeled away from the two other skiers with him, including his teammate, Johnny Spillane. Were you confident at that point, when you saw him surge forward, that he was going to win the gold?

Ms. DEMONG: I was so excited when I saw what looked like a physical explosion on the ice. He just took off, and we were all screaming so loud, we couldn't even hear with the cacophony of shouts and screams.

BLOCK: What did Bill tell you after the race, Helen?

Ms. DEMONG: He said: How do you feel? And I said: We are all so proud of you. And he just gave everybody in the family a big hug, and he's a little humble when you talk to him about his accomplishments, but he was able to bask in it last night.

BLOCK: You know, Helen, you and I spoke about a month ago when I was up in Lake Placid, New York, and you talked to me about being eight months pregnant with Billy during the 1980 winter games in Lake Placid, and do you remember what you said?

Ms. DEMONG: I said that standing watching Eric Heiden win his fifth gold medal, and I put my hand on my stomach and said: And I have an Olympic baby.

BLOCK: And now you have an Olympic baby bringing home gold.

Ms. DEMONG: I know. It's incredible.

BLOCK: And Helen, it doesn't stop with the gold medal for Billy. Last night, I understand, he got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend in front of the whole team.

Ms. DEMONG: He did. The U.S. Ski Team held a celebration after the medal ceremony, and I was standing with my daughter when he said: I have someone that I would like to acknowledge. And he called his girlfriend up on the platform, and he said: This may be a little cheesy but he asked her to marry him. And it was the sweetest moment.

BLOCK: So he's got the gold medal, he's got a fiancee and one more thing. He has been chosen by the entire U.S. Olympic Team to be the flag bearer at the closing ceremony on Sunday. It's a pretty darn good day for the Demong family.

Ms. DEMONG: Oh, my gosh. Well, last night at the ceremony he said that means as much to him as winning the gold medal, to have the U.S. Ski Olympians nominate him for that honor.

BLOCK: Well, Helen Demong, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much, and congratulations again.

Ms. DEMONG: Thank you.

BLOCK: Helen Demong is the mother of Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong, the first American to win gold in Nordic combined.

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