A sport that has its beginnings in the late 1800s when Norwegian soldiers began informal competitions, the event first featured cross-country skiing following by ski jumping, but was reversed in the 1950s. Under the Gundersen Method, which has been used since the Calgary Games in 1988 and is named after its creator, Norway’s Gunnar Gundersen, starting places for the cross-country are determined based on the ski jumping results. Once the jumping points are totaled, they are converted into time penalties, and generally, a 10-point lead provides for a one-minute start in the cross-country race. At Sochi, the Nordic combined opens on Feb. 12 at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre with the men’s individual normal hill and a 10-kilometer cross-country race. On Feb. 18, they will compete on the large ski jumping hill and over the same distance in cross-country. They will follow that up with the team event on Feb. 20 on the large hill followed by a 4x5-kilometer cross-country race.
Here are five things to know about the Nordic combined events in Sochi:
MALE-ONLY BASTION: With women ski jumpers joining their male counterparts at Sochi, Nordic combined is the sole male-only sport at the Winter Olympics. The International Ski Federation (FIS) does not currently sanction women’s competition on its calendar, although it has information on its website that a women’s version of the sport is growing in Russia. It says 86 women are training in the Perm region and that during the recent Russian national championships, a women’s training camp under the direction of former Russian Olympian and Perm-based Denis Tishagin was held at the new World Cup venue of Chaikovskiy.
FRENZEL IN CHARGE: Germany’s Eric Frenzel is a big gold medal favorite for Sochi based on his results heading into the Olympics. He won his third consecutive World Cup event earlier this month and became the first winner of the Nordic Combined Triple, a new format that added the results of three competitions on one weekend. “This is great. I have no explanation for it, it all went just really well,” Frenzel said after the race at Seefeld, Austria.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD?: Norway has traditionally been the strongest nation in Nordic combined, having won 11 gold medals, eight silvers and seven bronze in the sport since it was held at the first Olympics in 1924. Finland is a distant second with four gold medals and 14 overall, and Austria is in third with three golds. One of the Austrian team golds came at Vancouver in 2010, where a shift in power in the sport began to take shape. The American team that included Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick and the now-retired Johnny Spillane won the team silver, while Germany, including Frenzel, took the bronze.
AMERICANS LOOK STRONG: There will be four Americans in the competition, and all are capable of winning medals. Lodwick initially earned his berth by winning the Olympic trials in December, Demong and brothers Taylor Fletcher and Bryan Fletcher, who are cross-country ski specialists. The 37-year old Lodwick will be competing at his sixth Olympics, and finished fourth in the individual 10-kilometer and with a silver medal in the team competition at Vancouver in 2010. Demong won the individual large hill gold, the first by any American in Nordic combined, and the team silver medal. Taylor Fletcher, 23, competed in Vancouver, while brother Bryan, 27, will make his Olympic debut in Russia.
THE GEAR: Nordic combined athletes have to switch equipment during their event. First the jumping gear — specialized high-backed boots to allow the skier to lean far forward during flight, and a connection cord that is a part of the binding attaches the ski to the boot and prevents the skis from wobbling during flight. The cross-country skiing gear includes a boot that is shored up in the ankle, which is constantly under pressure in the free technique. Cross-country skis are narrower and lighter than those used in Alpine skiing, have curved ends and can be up to two meters (6 feet, six inches) long. The type of wax used depends on snow and general weather conditions. In Sochi, that could change from day to day because of expected generally milder conditions in the Black Sea region.