Schedule of Events
Now that women have finally earned the right to participate at the Olympics in ski jumping, the quirky hybrid event of Nordic combined is the last of the Olympic disciplines to offer medals only to men. Combining ski jumping and cross-country skiing, the sport dates back to the inaugural Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo held in 1892.Four years ago, Americans surprised the world by taking four of the nine medals up for grabs in Vancouver. Johnny Spillane captured silver medals in both individual events, becoming the first American to land on an Olympic podium in the Nordic combined. His teammate, Bill Demong, did one better, beating Spillane in the individual large hill competition for Olympic gold. And the Americans finished only behind the Austrians in the team competition.
In Sochi, Olympic glory will be much harder to come by for the men in Stars and Stripes. Spillane retired after the 2013 season, and Demong arrives in Russia as a 33-year-old in clear decline on the scene. Todd Lodwick, the oldest member of the team, is 37. Brothers Taylor and Bryan Fletcher offer hope for the future, and could help pull the team to one last success before the elder members retire from the sport.
But the U.S. contingent will have a tough road to travel to reach the podium in any of the events. Germany’s Eric Frenzel and France’s Jason Lamy-Chappuis are the clear favorites in both individual competitions, and the two titans of the sport are likely to vault their teams to podium position as well.
Frenzel, the current world champion on the large hill and the 2011 world champion on the normal hill, comes to Sochi as the defending World Cup champion and the current World Cup leader in 2014. As a 21-year-old, he was part of Germany’s bronze-medal-winning team in Vancouver; now four years older, the skier from Saxony is poised for an Olympic breakthrough. In the team competition, he will partner with a strong team that includes podium dark-horse Johannes Ryzdek.
But to break through and capture gold he will have to knock off Lamy-Chappuis, the defending Olympic champion and current world champion on the normal hill. The Frenchman might offer the best hope for American fans to enjoy a vicarious victory; though he currently resides in the Jura mountains of France, Lamy-Chappuis was born in Missoula, Montana. But he will have to remain vigilant, especially after his win over Spillane in Vancouver came by only 0.4 seconds — the narrowest margin of victory in a Nordic combined race in Olympic history.The Austrians, led by Bernhard Gruber and Mario Stecher, will also hope to factor into the medal mix. Gruber is coming off a silver medal performance in the large hill competition at the world championships last February, and took bronze in the same event four years ago in Vancouver. Stecher, like Demong and Lodwick, is an elder statesman among a new generation of skiers. Gruber, who finished behind Frenzel in the large hill competition at the world championships last year, was a key member of the Austrians’ gold-medal team performance in 2010.
Another interesting story will be the Japanese team. Led by Akito Watabe, Japan was only 1.5 seconds out of podium position behind the Americans at the 2013 world championships. Watabe has a chance at a medal in the individual large hill competition, but he could potentially also lead his compatriots to team glory given the right conditions.
And what would the Nordic combined be without the Norwegians, who founded the sport at the tail end of the 19th century? Having finished behind only France in the team competition at the world championships, Norway has the athletes to factor into the podium race as well. Mikko Kokslien, Magnus Krog, Håvard Klemetsen and Magnus Moan have all had their share of successes in recent years, and as a team they will be hard to knock off the podium.
The story four years ago centered on the breakthrough of the Americans. This Olympiad, the U.S. team is likely to regress back to their normal second-tier status in the sport as the French and Germans contest the majority of the spoils.
Nordic Combined Medal Favorites
|INDIVIDUAL LARGE HILL||Eric Frenzel (GER)||Jason Lamy-Chappuis (FRA)||Akito Watabe (JPN)|
|INDIVIDUAL NORMAL HILL||Jason Lamy-Chappuis (FRA)||Mario Stecher (AUT)||Eric Frenzel (GER)|
|TEAM LARGE HILL||France||Germany||Norway|