PARK CITY There was a time not too long ago that athletes like Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane might have viewed this weekend's Ski Jump and Nordic Combined National Championships as the highlight of their season a chance to be labeled the best the country had to offer.
Those days are over.
"We're not trying to be the best Americans anymore," Demong said. "We're trying to be the best in the world."
Demong is well on his way to accomplishing just that after finishing third in the World Cup standings. No American had ever placed higher than fourth, and Demong was a regular on the podium at World Cup events all season long.
This weekend, he hopes to cap this dream season with a win on familiar territory.
"It's home. It's nationals. And it's going to be pretty exciting," he said just a day after flying from Europe back to his base of operations in Park City. "Defending all three titles from last year, that's going to be a real challenge."
Demong's season has been a breakthrough for the American Nordic combined team as it has struggled in most years to be competitive with the strong Scandinavian and European countries.
After placing second at last year's world championships in Japan, Demong raced into the 2007-08 season with a ton of confidence. He found himself at the top of the podium after his win in Trondheim, Norway, and had six podium placements during the season.
Living and training in Utah since the 2002 Winter Olympics has given the native New Yorker a chance to develop his skills to become one of the world's best, he said.
Another athlete to keep an eye on is Park City's Jessica Jerome.
Still hoping to find a spot for women ski jumpers in the Olympics, Jerome has had a strong season.
She finished third in Japan last week at a Continental Cup event and placed seventh in the overall standings. Park City's Lindsey Van placed sixth overall but skipped last week's competition."I'm looking forward to coming home and competing at nationals next weekend in Park City," Jerome said. "My technique hasn't been far off, and my jumping and overall fitness is moving in the right direction. So hopefully I can keep building on that and finish off the season with some long jumps."
U.S. National Ski Jump and Nordic Combined Championships
Utah Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow
8 -10 a.m.: USSA SuperTour Ski Jump (HS134 jump), Utah Olympic Park
8-10 a.m.: U.S. Championship Ski Jump (HS134 jump), Utah Olympic Park
(includes men's championship, women's championship and Nordic combined jump)
6:30-7:30 p.m.: U.S. Nordic Combined Championship Cross Country, Soldier Hollow