SOCHI 2014

Jan 08 ’14 Need To Knows: Nordic Combined

By Paul D. Bowker | Jan. 08, 2014, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
Todd Lodwick skis to a first-place finish at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Nordic Combined at Utah Olympic Park on Dec. 28, 2013 in Park City, Utah. 

Nordic combined events include a single ski jumping competition and a 10-kilometer cross-country race. The Olympic program features three events, including individual normal hill, individual large hill and team large hill, in which four athletes each take one jump before combining for a 4x5-kilometer cross-country race. Points are scored for distance and style in the ski jumping portion of the competition. The skiers or teams with the most points will start first in the cross-country portion, followed by the next best jumper or relay after a gap, which reflects the difference in the jumping scores.

BILLY DEMONG’S GOLDEN MOMENT

Billy Demong, the first Olympic gold medalist in U.S. Nordic combined history, loves a big moment. On the evening after he won a gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Demong proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Katie Koczynski. They were married less than five months later in Lake Placid, N.Y. They now live in Park City, Utah. Katie teaches sociology at Salt Lake Community College. They have a son, Liam, who will turn 3 in January. Demong has used some intense bicycle training in preparation for Sochi. A ninth-place finish in a world cup event in December in Austria has helped provide some momentum heading into the final two-month block leading up to Sochi.

SEARCH FOR SIX COMES TO AN END

At age 37, Todd Lodwick has reached a special number in Olympic circles. After winning the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Nordic Combined, Lodwick earned his nomination to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. All nominations are pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee and the final team will be announced on Jan. 27, 2014. Sochi would mark his sixth Winter Games. No other American has competed in six Olympic Winter Games. Lodwick had retired from international competition for two years before coming back to win two world championships in 2009 and earning a silver medal in the team competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. His achievements include being the first U.S. athlete to win a Nordic combined world cup. He did that in 1995 in his hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Bryan Fletcher skis during the 4x5-kilometer race at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Feb. 24, 2013 in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

A CANCER SURVIVOR

At 3, Bryan Fletcher was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy for seven years. He overcame a stroke. Yet today, Fletcher is one of the top athletes on the U.S. Nordic combined team. Together with his younger brother, Taylor, they could be medal contenders at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Bryan had four top-10 finishes during the 2012-13 season and was a part of the bronze-medal-winning relay team at the world championships. His cancer went into remission, and he is actively involved in causes supporting research and treatment of cancer. “The doctors didn’t want me to jump, but I loved it,” he said of his boyhood years. “My mom wanted me to be happy, so I started and I’ve stuck with it.”

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS CONNECTION

Steamboat Springs, a Colorado city in the Rocky Mountains, has a history of growing skiers into world-class Nordic combined athletes. Taylor Fletcher, a 2010 Olympian, and older brother Bryan, both 2014 Olympic hopefuls, grew up in Steamboat Springs. Three-time Olympic medalist Johnny Spillane is a native of Steamboat Springs and now lives there after his retirement from international competition. Tom Steitz, the former head coach of the U.S. Nordic combined national team, ran the program out of Steamboat Springs from 1988 to 2002. After the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the Nordic combined headquarters was moved to Utah. Steitz coached Spillane, Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong and five-time Olympian Todd Lodwick, among others.

DATES TO REMEMBER

Nordic combined events will take place on three dates: Feb. 12, 18 and 20. The opening day of action on Feb. 12 will consist of men’s normal hill ski jumping combined with a 10-kilometer cross-country race.

Silver medalists Brett Camerota, Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane
 and Billy Demong stand on the podium during the medal ceremony for the 4x5-kilometer team event at the Vancouver
2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 23, 2010.

THE MEDALS

Three sets of medals will be awarded in Nordic combined at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, for a total of nine medals. The events include two individual competitions: Each begins with one ski jump (either on the normal hill or the large hill) followed by a 10-kilometer cross country ski race. In addition, the team competition on Feb. 20 combines large hill ski jumping with a 4x5-kilometer cross country race. Four skiers per country participate in the team relay. Team USA won four of the nine medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, including a gold medal won by Billy Demong and two silver medals by Johnny Spillane.

HOW THE SCORING WORKS

A format called the Gundersen method was introduced at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Under that format, points from the ski jumping portion are converted into differentials that, in turn, determine the start intervals for the cross-country skiing portion. The athlete who won the ski jumping sessions starts first, the second-best ski jumper starts second in the race, and so on. The team relay works the same way; the nation whose fourth and final skier crosses the line first wins the gold medal.

THE VENUE

Nordic combined events will be held at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center, which is a part of the Sochi Mountain Cluster venues in the Krasnaya Polyana resort area. RusSki Gorki is located on the northern slope of the Aibga Ridge, an area picked by local Olympic organizers because it is harmonious with the surrounding landscape and also it will protect athletes from side winds. The venue can seat up to 9,600 spectators. It will also be the venue for the men’s and women’s ski jumping competitions. After the Winter Games, the facility will be used by Russia as a national training center.

Billy Demong ski jumps during the Nordic combined HS106 on Feb. 22, 2013 in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

TEAM USA SELECTIONS

The 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Nordic Combined were held Dec. 28 at Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. It was the venue for ski jumping at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The winner, Todd Lodwick, was nominated to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee. Remaining nominations will be determined by world cup and Continental Cup results. Each nation can earn up to five quota spots, and no more than four in one event, for Sochi. The qualification period, which includes FIS World Cup and Grand Prix events, ends Jan. 19. The U.S. team is expected to be announced Jan. 22.

USA MEDAL CONTENDERS

A strong U.S. team likely begins with four-time Olympian Billy Demong and five-time Olympian Todd Lodwick. Demong won a gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010. Lodwick won a silver medal in the team event in Vancouver and finished fourth in the individual normal hill event. He is a two-time world championship gold medalist. Among the young talent are brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. Taylor made his Olympic debut in 2010, finishing 11th in the large hill event. Older brother Bryan earned a bronze medal in the team relay at the 2013 world championships, combining with Taylor, Demong and Lodwick.

HISTORY LESSON

Nordic combined competition in the Olympic Games dates all the way back to 1924, when the first Olympic Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France. The team event began with three-person teams at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games. The teams were expanded to four athletes 10 years later in Nagano.

FINALLY … USA GOLD

Four-time Olympian Billy Demong reached the top of the Olympic podium in 2010 to set American history. Until then, no American had won an Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined. And that was just a part of the history set in Vancouver. After being shut out from earning a medal at any Olympic Winter Games in Nordic combined, U.S. athletes won four of them in Vancouver.

REACHING THE K POINT

In the ski jumping event, an athlete will want to reach the K Point and beyond. And they’ll want to do so without falling, of course. The K Point is the distance from the takeoff that is equivalent to the height of the hill. The hill sizes in Sochi are 105 meters (normal hill) and 140 meters (large hill). Athletes receive more points for going past the K Point and have point deductions for landings underneath the K Point. The hill record for the HS 140 large hill at Whistler, the ski jumping venue at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, is 149 meters.

COMBINED EQUIPMENT

Nordic combined is an Olympic sport that requires athletes to use equipment from two disciplines. The ski jumping equipment includes boots with a high instep that allows athletes to lean forward while in flight. The length of the skis can be up to 146 percent of a person’s height. The skis used in the cross-country race can be up to two meters long (almost 6.5 feet). Bindings on the ski secure only the toe of the boot. Long ski poles often reach as high as an athlete’s chin.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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