American Bill Demong finished fourth Saturday in a nordic combined World Cup 15 kilometer, less than three seconds back in a wild five-man sprint to the finish won by defending World Cup champion Hannu Manninen of Finland. Demong was 10th in jumping and finished 2.7 seconds back of Manninen in the opening competition of the three-event German Grand Prix shifted from Oberhof because of poor snow.
RUHPOLDING, Germany — American Bill Demong finished fourth Saturday — his best performance in nearly five years — in a nordic combined World Cup 15 kilometer, less than three seconds back in a wild five-man sprint to the finish won by defending World Cup champion Hannu Manninen of Finland.
Demong was 10th in jumping and finished 2.7 seconds back of Manninen in the opening competition of the three-event German Grand Prix shifted from Oberhof because of poor snow. Ssebastien Haseney of Germany was second, 1.7 seconds back, while German hero Ronny Ackermann edged Demong in a photo finish for third place. Brett Camerota was 33rd but Johnny Spillane failed to make it to the final round of jumping when the field was cut to the top 35 after the first round.
Manninen was nearly two minutes behind the leaders after the jumping, but he passed them in the 15-kilometer race to win in a combined time of 35 minutes, 58.1 seconds.
"It was a good day," Demong said. "This [Ruhpolding's 128-meter jump] has been a good hill for me the last couple of years. I had decent training jumps; we got here Thursday about noon, took a light ski and jumped yesterday, and I kinda put it together today … although it was a really tough finish.
"It was Hannu and Ackermann and Felix and Haseney, and the cross-country rank [for the 15 km] was just about the same as the order of finish, which you don't often see. I was focused on going out, opening slowly …" Gottwald had the fastest 15 km and Demong's time was fifth-fastest. When Ackermann, who started 27 seconds behind Demong, caught him, the three-time U.S. Olympian took off with him; eventually, Manninen and Haseney joined them. As they got into the final stages, he said, "It was a good pace, those last three laps with Hannu driving it. I got caught up with the guys behind me on a couple of uphills. I figured I had a good chance for third — Hannu opened it a little with Haseney on the last roller, but it was tight and icy, so I couldn't step on it.
"I slid by Felix and was maybe a little ahead of Ronny, but somehow he literally threw himself to get his feet ahead of me, but I thought I still got him," Demong said. "We waited about 10 minutes for them to decide the photo finish. I saw the video and I'm a little bit ahead of him, sticking my foot out [to cross the finish first] and he went right on his butt as he threw himself at the line … and they finally said Ronny was third."
"To miss the podium by a photo finish is never fun," said head coach Lasse Ottesen, "so Billy's psyched but he's also bummed because he had Ackermann at the end. I told him he could spend half an hour being angry but then let it go and realize what a great race he had, and what a tremendous effort he put out there.
"I mean, this is Billy's best result in nearly five years, since he won in Liberec [Czech Republic — January 2002, just before the Salt Lake City Olympics]. Don't lose sight of that," the coach said. "It's great for him and it's great for the team … and there's more to come."
Jumping to 10th was a key to the performance, Ottesen said. Demong had strong races earlier in the season, but his jumping was erratic. Saturday, jumping put him in a position to challenge for the podium.
"He's been taking steps forward on the jump hill in training, doing some great stuff but not as stable yet as he could be to bring it into the comp … but it's coming. And this is definitely what the team needs going into the new year because we know we're doing the right thing. We need to trust what we've been doing," Ottesen said.
The competition originally was set to open the Grand Prix in the former East German nordic center of Oberhof, but the snow drought in Europe forced organizers to move the event. Ruhpolding, which was set to hold a two-man team sprint Wednesday, said it would pick up the event.
The Americans have been scrambling to get on-snow jump training and after additional training at home during the Christmas break, Ottesen said they're making progress. Sunday will be an "open" jumping day in Ruhpolding, rather than the traditional three rounds of official training, "so we could get maybe 10 or 12 or 15 rounds of jumping, which is exactly what we need."
New rules this season cut the field of competitors to 35 after the first round of jumping and Spillane was 40th, so he was eliminated. Ottesen said staying in Ruhpolding should help him since he'll be jumping at the same venue for several days instead of traveling.
The two-man competition at midweek doesn't count in the World Cup standings. From there, the Grand Prix concludes Jan. 6 in Oberstdorf, having been moved from the traditional finale site in Schonach, also because of a lack of snow.
Christoph Bieler of Austria took the overall lead in the World Cup standings with 356 points after six races. Magnus Moan of Norway has 351 and Manninen is third with 335.
The World Cup was moved to Ruhpolding a few days earlier because of poor conditions in Oberhof, Germany. Organizers had to use artificial snow for the 1.8-kilometer cross-country course.
For complete results, click here.
World Cup nordic combined results
RUHPOLDING, Germany — Results Saturday from a World Cup nordic combined event (results of ski jumping and 15-kilometer cross-country ski race in parantheses):
1. Hannu Manninen, Finland, 35 minutes, 58.1 seconds. (228.4 points-34:07.1).
2. Sebastian Haseney, Germany, 1.2 seconds behind (234.0-34:30.3).
3. Ronny Ackermann, Germany, 2.7 (235.9-34:39.8).
4. Bill Demong, United States, 2.7 (242.7-35:06.8).
5. Felix Gottwald, Austria, 3.7 (226.6-34:03.8).
6. Christoph Bieler, Austria, 30.3 (252.7-36:14.4).
7. Mario Stecher, Austria, 37.3 (243.8-35:45.4).
8. Bjoern Kircheisen, Germany, 52.8 (243.8-36:00.9).
9. Bernhard Gruber, Austria, 1:06.7 (254.7-36:58.8).
10. Anssi Koivuranta, Finland, 1:40.3 (256.2-37:38.4).
World Cup standings (after 6 of 18 events)
1. Christoph Bieler, Austria, 356 points.
2. Magnus Moan, Norway, 351.
3. Hannu Manninen, Finland, 335.
4. Anssi Koivuranta, Finland, 305.
5. Jason Lamy Chappuis, France, 284.
6. Sebastian Haseney, Germany, 265.
7. Maxime Laheurte, France, 221.
8. Ronny Ackermann, Germany, 215.
9. Petter Tande, Norway, 175.
10. Bjoern Kircheisen, Germany, 158.