Bill Koch started out as a Nordic combined competitor, but he was so much better at the cross-country portion of the event that he eventually dropped jumping altogether. Internationally Koch first burst on the scene by finishing third at the 1974 European Junior Championships, the first medal for an American in top-level cross-country competition. At the 1976 Olympics, Koch put on an amazing display. Besides his silver medal, he had the fastest leg in the relay pulling the Americans from eighth to third; was sixth in the 15 km. race; and actually led the 50 km. at the halfway point, before fading to 13th. It was an unparalleled performance for an American at that level of competition.
Koch had some tough years after the Olympics. He was not prepared for the celebrity thrust upon him and skiied poorly for several years. He also began to have problems with exercise-induced asthma, but refused to blame that for the trouble. At the 1980 Olympics, Koch was America’s best skiier, but his performances lacked the luster of four years earlier. After 1980, however, Bill Koch changed his training methods, began skiing longer marathon races, and developed a technique similar to skating with his skis. It enabled him to become the world’s top cross-country skier. In 1982 he won the individual Nordic World Cup, emblematic of the top skiier for the season. He led the same competition for much of 1983 but fell off at the end to finish third, still by far the top American ever. In 1982 he finished third in the 30 km. World Championship, the first American to win a medal at that competition.