Nordic Combined, Popular Event at Olympic Winter Games: History and Interesting Facts

Nordic combined pictogram
Nordic combined pictogram | Source

The twenty-second Olympic Winter Games have begun. The small, summer resort town of Sochi, Russia is abuzz with excitement from athletes and spectators alike. One popular sport, the Nordic Combined, termed the decathlon of skiing, is the combination of two disciplines: ski jumping and cross-country skiing. This article gives a brief look at the sport’s history, and lists a number of interesting facts, especially as it pertains to the Olympics.

History of Nordic Combined

Nordic Combined is quite popular in Europe but not as much in the United States. Perhaps, it is because the citizens of the Northern countries, where the sport originated, were used to skiing over long distances to reach neighboring communities, hunt, and perform other activities. The Nordic Combined competitions were actually created by soldiers in the Norwegian Army in 1767.

The first major competition took place at the first ever Holmenkollen Ski Festival (still ongoing today) in Oslo, Norway in 1892. The sport was included in the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup biannual competitions in 1983. It was part of the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 at Chamonix, France. Competition, however, were for individual athletes only. The team event was not added until the 1988 Games at Calgary, Canada.

Changes in Nordic Combined Format

Typically today, Nordic Combined consists of three events: Individual Normal Hill, Individual Large Hill, and Team competition. But format has changed over the centuries. Some changes had to do with the order in which the two disciplines were scheduled. Other changes involved the number of events in each discipline, scoring, and performance techniques.

Changes in the Order, Distances, and Events in Nordic Combined Disciplines

Before the 1950s, competition started with cross-country skiing followed by ski jumping. In 1956, the distance of the cross-country ski race changed from 18km to 15km. In the individual events, competitors jump twice then raced cross-country for 15km.

Added later were other competitions such as the Mass Start Competition (2009 FIS World Ski Championships, CzechRepublic), in which everyone skied cross-country and followed it with two rounds of ski jumping. In the first round, athletes jumped in reverse order according to their cross-country results; the Individual Sprint event (2009 FIS World Ski Championships), in which athletes performed one jump on the large hill and raced cross-country for 7.5km, and Hurricane Sprint (2007-08 FIS Nordic Combined World Cup), in which cross-country starts were based on staggered distances instead of staggered times.

In some competitions, the disciplines were held over two days. In others, both events occurred on the same day. That is, athletes completed their two ski jumps on the first day of competition, and raced cross-country on the second day or they completed both disciplines on the same day.

In the current 2013-2014 season, the FIS added a new competition called New Nordic Combined Triple. Rounds of both ski jumping and cross-country skiing took place over three consecutive days. The overall winner received prize money and extra points toward his World Cup standings.

At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Nordic Combined competition for individual athletes will consists of: ski jumping on Individual Normal Hill and a 10km cross-country ski race followed by the finals of both disciplines later that same day; and ski jumping on Individual Large Hill and a 10km cross-country ski race followed by the finals of both disciplines later that same day.

The 1988 team competition at Calgary consisted of three athletes per team each making three jumps with scores for the worst jump thrown out. The cross-country race was 3 x 10km relay. In 1998, the format changed to four-member teams with each member competing in two jumps, both of which were counted, and 4 x 5km cross-country relay. The team event at Sochi will be ski jumping on the large hill and a 4 x 5km cross-country relay competition followed by the finals of both events later that same day.

Changes in Nordic Combined Scoring System

Scoring in ski jumping had always been based on style and distance, but at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games, a new scoring system was implemented for the cross-country part of the sport. The Gundersen Method, named after its Norwegian creator Gunder Gundersen, used the ski jumping results to determine the order of the cross-country starts. The ski jumping points of the competitors were converted into staggered times. The athlete with the most points got the first start. This method of scoring is still used today.

Changes in the Performance Techniques of Nordic Combined Athletes

Today most competitors enter their ski jump flight with the V-style to help gain as much distance as possible, and employ a telemark landing for which points are awarded. When they land, one ski is placed in front of the other as they lean forward.

They have also ditched the old Classic cross-country style of racing with skis parallel to each other for the more efficient Free technique where skis are pushed both backward and outward at 45-degree angles (“Equipment and History,” www.olympic.org).

Unfinished Ski Jumping arena, Estosadek, Sochi, Russia (used in 2014 Olympic Winter Games)
Unfinished Ski Jumping arena, Estosadek, Sochi, Russia (used in 2014 Olympic Winter Games) | Source
Cross-country skiing (2011 Rogla FIS Cross-Country World Cup)
Cross-country skiing (2011 Rogla FIS Cross-Country World Cup) | Source

Historical Success of Countries and Athletes in Nordic Combined

The Norwegians dominated Nordic Combined for the longest period before being joined by athletes from other Scandinavian countries and Austria. This changed at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Games in California when West German Georg Thoma won gold.

At this year’s Sochi Olympic Winter Games, names to look for are:

- Germany’s Eric Frenzel, who was the overall winner of the FIS 2013-14 World Cup season, and Tino Edelmann, who placed third. Both men were also part of the team that won a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in British Columbia, Canada.

- France’s Jason Lamy-Chappuis (born in Montana, United States but grew up in France), who finished second in the 2013-14 FIS World Cup overall standings, and won gold in Normal Hill at the Vancouver Games.

- Austria’s Bernhard Gruber, who placed fourth overall in World Cup, and has two Olympic medals one, a team gold.

- Akito Watabe of Japan, who had second and third place finishes in this season’s World Cup.

- Last but certainly not least, Norway’s Magnus Moan, who picked up silver and bronze medals at the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Interesting Facts about Nordic Combined, especially at Olympic Games (not including Sochi)

(1) The sport of Nordic Combined is called the decathlon of skiing because the athletes use completely different muscle groups or types in the two disciplines. In ski jumping they use muscles for strength and balance. In the tough cross-country ski race they use muscles for speed and endurance.

(2) Different boots and skis are used for ski jumping and cross-country skiing.

(3) To date, Norway has eleven gold, eight silver, and seven bronze medals from the Olympic Winter Games beginning in 1924. Finland is second with fourteen medals including four gold.

(4) West Germany won gold in the first ever Nordic Combined team competition at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

(5) Austria’s Felix Gottwald won the most Nordic Combined medals in the history of the Winter Games. He has seven.

(6) Samppa Lajunen of Finland was the first to win three gold medals at the same Games: the 2002 Park City Winter Olympics in Utah, U.S. The first to win three overall was East Germany’s Ulrich Wehling. He did so at the Olympic Games of 1972, 1976, and 1980.

(7) Finland’s Anssi Koivuranta is the youngest ever athlete to medal in a Nordic Combined Olympic competition. He won team bronze at the 2006 Torino Games at the age of 17.

(8) American Success in Nordic Combined at Olympic Winter Games:

- Johnny Spillane was the first American to medal. He won silver for the Individual Normal Hill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

- The first American to win gold was Bill Demong also at 2010 Vancouver. Demong is returning to the sport at this year’s 2014 Winter Olympics. He will be participating in both individual and team events.

- Todd Lodwick, elected to carry the American flag at Sochi, will become the first American to compete in six Olympic Winter Games.

- The United States won four medals overall at 2010 Vancouver: one gold and three silvers.

(9) At the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Nordic Combined will be the only competition that is exclusively male.

(10) Russia has a group of female athletes training in Nordic Combined though the FIS has not sanctioned it as a competition for women.

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