Billy Demong leads U.S. team into Nordic combined opener today in Finland

The following is an excerpt from an article posted at theskichannel.com:

From the top of the towering jump scaffold at the Ruka ski area north of Kuusamo, you can see all the way to Russia. Well, it’s just 30 miles away. The frigid land of mid-day sunset will be the scene Friday of the International Ski Federation’s nordic combined opener as Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong leads a four-man U.S. contingent to the gateway of Lapland.

“I feel good about it this year,” said Demong. “We’ve been strategic in our preparation and this is the one of the best group of four guys we’ve ever brought to Kuusamo.”

It wasn’t easy getting there, but team finally made it to Kuusamo after a successful tune-up camp in the Olympic village of Lillehammer, Norway. After flying Oslo to Stockholm to Helsinki to Kuusamo, or, actually, rerouting to Oulu over 200 kilometers away, it was like a homecoming. The opener has been held in Kuusamo every November since 2002, although the Americans strategically skipped the event a year ago.

“We made it!,” tweeted Demong. “Home sweet Ruka Hovi! Seems nice, not too cold, snowing lightly. Could it be a new Ruka?”

The Ruka ski resort, also home of the freestyle moguls opener in a few weeks, is north of the Finnish city of Kuusamo – the gateway to Lapland. Kuusamo is situated just south of the Arctic Circle and only about 30 miles as a reindeer would run through the frozen lakes to Russia.

“The weather is fantastic here – maybe a bit cold – but it’s clear and I’m seeing mountains I never knew were there before,” said Demong.

The ski hill at Ruka pops up like a bump on the frozen tundra. The jump hill is on top with the cross country trails running around the base, up and down the hill. It’s one of the toughest jumping hills on the circuit and most challenging cross country courses.

“Ruka has always been a big wakeup call for us,” said Demong. Kuusamo hasn’t been all that kind to the USA over the years. Demong and Spillane split podiums in 2007 and Lodwick scored a pair in 2004.

Click here to read the entire article.

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