Demong gets early look at Sochi venues

Olympic gold-medalist Billy Demong competed in a nordic combined World Cup in Sochi, Russia this past weekend.

The four-time Olympian from Vermontville took 28th in the individual event and was part of a team that finished seventh on the venues that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Enterprise caught up with Demong by phone on Tuesday, after he returned to his home in Salt Lake City. Demong shared his thoughts about the Sochi venues and the upcoming world championships, which take place later this month in Italy. (His thoughts on the world championships will run in an article next week.)

Demong visted the town of Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains, just outside the city of Sochi. The two clusters of Olympic venues are about 30 miles apart, according to the Sochi Olympics website. Krasnaya Polyana will be host to the outdoor mountain events, such as biathlon, bobsled, skeleton, luge and the skiing competition.

The other events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, will be held in Sochi, which is located on the Black Sea.

ADE: Tell me about the skiing and jumping venues? What were your thoughts about those?

BD: For the Sochi Games, the venue is going to be a little bit different in that cross-country for nordic combined is actually separate from the normal cross-country venue and is actually at the jumps. In fact, the jumps’ flat area will be the start and finish area for the nordic combined and the trail goes out from the stadium and does a lap there.

So for us, it’s quite a bit different. We won’t have to transport to venues. Spectators won’t have to move. They’ll be in the same seats, so that should be pretty cool.

The one downside of that is we basically have a pure competition venue. There’s not a lot of other trails to train on or anything, so I think it will be really good for the Olympics, but they’ve definitely built a pure competition venue.

The jumps are pretty modern hills, similar to Salt Lake’s. They are elevated off the ground the whole way. Even the landing hills are mostly artificial, and it’s not for lack of terrain. It’s that the terrain that is built on the mountain is actually quite soft, so in order to build a strong super-structure they actually had to attach the entire super-structure on concrete piers that are buried 100 feet into the mountain. So the whole thing basically sits on this articifical platform.

So I think the organizing committee had some challenges in dealing with what was naturally there, in terms of soil and erosion potential, but they’ve navigated those pretty well now. Now the infrastructure is starting to go in pretty well. For next year, it should be good to go.

As far as the competition venues, it’s all good to go. It’s just a matter of getting the access roads and everything finished up.

The jumps are great. We only had the opportunity to jump the big hill. I didn’t have my best weekend, but I also have been struggling a little.

ADE: Describe what you saw outside of the competition venues.

BD: It’s really crazy in a good way. I mean, they’re investing in infrastructure. Basically, they’re creating this valley for the Olympics in terms of building a new train line, new high-speed train line, new highway, up to the mountains, then building, obviously, lodging and other pieces for the Olympics.

But I think the intention Russia has for Sochi with these games is to turn what has historically been somewhat of a beach resort with a mountain backdrop into a two-season resort with the palm-lined and medieval city on the shore that’s less than an hour to some amazing 7,000-foot peaks with crazy snow and austere views.

It’s a pretty awesome backdrop, and talking with people that were up alpine skiing this weekend, it was pretty incredible skiing. So I think they’re trying to create themselves a new destination and also kind of capture the world’s attention and produce a new collective picture of how we view Russia as a whole.

I think, there’s never been a Games where so much has been put into creating infrastucture and venues, in history. I mean, thinking, looking at the dollars and cents of it, they’re far outspending anything before it, including Beijing. I think there’s obviously a vision there to do a bunch of things, like I said, including attracting future tourism by connecting by air and train to the rest of Europe.

ADE: What is the city of Sochi like?

BD: From the city proper, the mountains really climb straight up, and it’s sort of maritime. It’s similar to Vancouver, in fact. You have the city on the ocean and the temperatures tend to be just above freezing in the 40s and 50s maybe, sort of maritime.

But you can see up into the mountains and it’s even closer in Sochi’s case and the mountains tower over the city. So it’s quite like an awesome backdrop. More than snowcapped, there’s excessive amounts of snow at the top. … It’s very much like the city is on a sliver between the mountains and the ocean. And the snow line does come right down into the city.

There will be some snow in Sochi at some point. It’s just not going to hold most likely through the Games, but that’s simlar to a lot of the host cities. Like Salt Lake doesn’t tend to hold a lot of snow and Vancouver doesn’t tend to hold a lot of snow.

ADE: Will it be difficult to compete at a new venue where you don’t have much experience?

BD: Olympic venues aren’t generally open for a lot of training. In fact, in Whistler, we had a special arrangement with the Canadians (to use the venues) in the years leading up, and I think that was good for us. But most teams don’t get to use the venues other than one pre-Olympic World Cup.

We’ve already had one summer competition, one winter competition and then we’ll be going back again this summer, so we’ll have had a fair amount of contact with the venue and with the surroundings.