Patience+Work = American Nordic Combined Breakthrough

Johnny Spillane winning silver for US in Nordic Combined

Spillane on the right. (Doug Mills photo, courtesy NY Times)

The big breakthrough for the US Olympic team at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games came from their Nordic Combined team. Johnny Spillane’s silver medal in the normal hill event is the US’s first ever at the Olympics in that discipline.

Spillane has become a celebrity overnight in the US, but he and his teammates Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick were buildling to this moment for the last twelve years.

Read the Good4sport interview with their former coach Corby Fisher for an inside perspective, and then leave a comment about this turn at the Olympics.

Corby Fisher, a former US National team coach, is working for NBC at the Games.

G4S Q+A

G4S: When Johnny Spillane won the silver medal in the normal hill

combined, what went through your mind?

C.F.:  Johnny’s result was so historic, its hard to fully articulate what I felt, but it was a combination of trying to realize the historical implications of this being the first time the USA has ever gotten a medal in really any Nordic Sport, and feeling something I hadn’t felt since 2003 when I watched Johnny win the first world championship in Italy.  All of those training days, his character, his family, Steamboat, America, it all flashes through my mind.

G4S: Spillane was followed closely by Todd Lodwick (4th) and Bill

Demong (6th). In what way did those two contribute to his medal?

C.F.:  Its a metaphor for the whole program and their road here.  The fact that there are 3 world champions on one team is incredible and they all push each other in many different ways.  That also goes for all the athletes that have ever been a part of the program, each person had a role in something that motivated, pushed, fueled and inspired all of us, but it was Johnny that has broken through, not once but twice now, executing when it counted most and making history that will no doubt inspire many generations to come.

G4S: Spillane had some bad days training for the normal hill

competition. In fact, his jumps prior to competition were frustrating

him. How did he turn it around?

C.F.:  Johnny is a gamer!  Back in 2003 he didn’t have great official training jumps either, but he can go home, focus on some anchors – both technical and psychological, and do his best when the bib is on.  Thats why he has been the one to blaze the trail for this program, when he is not always the big dog in training.  And to add to that, on his comp jump, Johnny had poor conditions with tailwind, which is the jumpers worst enemy, but he even jumped through that to put himself in a good position for the race.

G4S: It took a long time for these Americans to reach this level.

Which of the two Combined elements – jumping or cross-country – did

they have to work on the most?

C.F.  Thats a long and complex story….  They have always had some natural talent in both, but these days you have to be excellent at both to win.  We made some huge strides in 2003 in jumping technique and then Id say in the past 4 years they have really restructured the way they train for XC skiing under coach Dave Jarrett.  Now they can jump decent and still move up, and when they jump like they know how, it’s podium time in every race!

G4S: Bill Demong is, in some ways, the leader of this team. He cracked

his skull in a swimming accident in 2002, and had to take a year off.

He says the time off actually helped him. Why do you think?

C.F.:  Billy wants it more than anyone.  He just lives sport and sometimes is guilty of over-training, which is such an oxymoron, because in any sport, especially endurance sports, the more you train, the better you are…..but the time off that his very unfortunate accident forced him to take, let his body recover from decades of enormous training volume and it also gave time for the new way of thinking about XC training as I mentioned above, came into play.  Now Billy is a mature and veteran athlete that understands that proper rest is just as important as proper training.

And one note on that sad day in 2003 when Billy almost died, he jumped to 1st place for the first time in his life in the Summer Grand Prix we were in Germany, his teammates Todd and Johnny were 2nd and 4th respectively – so it was a really hard thing for the whole team, because it was the first start of something great, Im just so personally happy that Billy made this even better come back, almost anyone else would have walked away, lucky to be alive.

G4S You worked closely with him during his return to form in

2003-2004. What moment do you remember as the one where he turned the

corner?

C.F.:  As I mentioned above, it was a lot about having forced to take time off (although he did regularly sneak out and go on long runs, just weeks after his accident, he is that dedicated!) But there is just something about being forced to sit on the couch and recover, especially when you left off with a win, and watch your team go on without you.  Johnny went on to start the season with many podiums(up from being ranked in the 40s his whole life before) and then to win that historic first World Championship gold.  Billy had to watch from the sidelines and that is a very introspective time, he decided that he wanted to be a World Champ and Johnny showed that an American, his current teammate, could do it!  Billy took all of his drive, talent and incredible hard work and learned to use it in the right way, and went onto be better than ever, eventually winning that World Championship, and soon hopefully Olympic medals.

Corby Fisher started skiing as soon as he learned to walk

G4S: Johnny Spillane had a lot of media attention after winning the

silver medal. He basically missed a night of sleep. In what way do you

think the demands of the media attention are going to affect him and

the rest of the team?

C.F.:  Johnny is a veteran, he wont let it effect his, nor the teams performance.  There was an incredible media blitz, and continues to be, but that is why they chose to fly back to Park City, on a private jet, to rest, recover and keep the training up that got them here.  Johnny did miss that first night of sleep, having to leave for Vancouver to be on the Today show at 1:30am, but the next night slept 14 hours!  They are used to it, from traveling on the world cup tour for over 10 years straight, year round and being from the USA, they have to not only learn how to win this European / Scandinavian dominated sport, but to live out of a suitcase 9+ months per year.

There is more than enough time for Johnny to be back to 100% physically, and with that added kick from the confidence of just making US Olympic History!

G4S. They say the medal gets “the monkey of the back” of the American

team. How significant is that?

C.F.:  Its huge.  The fact that no one had ever been able to win an Olympic medal in our history, yet we have had many very talented athletes; from Kerry Lynch, to Ryan Heckman, to Todd, who all tried their very best and put their lives into winning an Olympic medal, and came up short.   Johnny just showed his current teammates, every young skier and any sportsman, in the country that it is possible to break through that (perceived) barrier.

G4S: When the team starts their next competition day Sunday, what kind

of discussion will they have the morning of?

C.F.:  The next comp day for them is Tuesday for the Team Large Hill.  There are very high expectations, because the US Team is definitely the Gold Medal favorite here, in a sport that they have never won any medal, until Johnny just made history last Sunday, but there is a special emphasis on the Team event for all that it represents.

The discussion should be all about positivity, because they legitimately are that good.  They just need to believe it, make sure they execute exactly what they have been doing before, give a little toast to Johnny’s Olympic medal (showing that it can be done) and go win!

G4S: What’s the most important part of their preparation on the day of?

C.F.:  Johnny eats a lucky Snickers bar that he got from his brother!!  🙂

The most important part on the day of is to do just what I mentioned above; Its all about confidence – to believe they can win, but to not just rely on that, to remember what they did to make them winners and have an incredible time doing that again and again.

G4S: What are these skiers capable of over the last two days of

competition?

C.F.;   Johnny, Billy and Todd are all capable of Gold Medals, they have all shown that in their titles and, very importantly, this season on the World Cup tour, with Johnny winning by what could have been over 1 minute, and Billy and Todd going 1-2 in another event.  With Johnny winning Silver, and almost Gold, on the K95, a size of hill that he doesn’t like compared to flying the Large Hills, and with Todd and Billy both in the top 6, plus with their other teammate, Brett Camerota jumping to 10th – they have to be feeling better than ever.  That can cause ‘pressure’, but with Johnny leading the way, it should only be about well deserved confidence that translates into 2 more Gold Medals and more US History!

Corby Fisher, 34, is working for NBC at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, as part of the broadcast team covering ski jumping and Nordic combined. The Park City, UT resident learned to ski as soon as he could walk, while growing up in Steamboat Springs, CO. His competitive ski jumping career was cut short by a series of concussions and a broken neck. He was ski jumping coach for the US national team between 2002-2004, and then ran the US Ski jumping team between 2004-2006. He retired from coaching after the 2006 season, and now runs a Sports Marketing company called Caliber Sports Enterprises

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