Nordic combined 101: Origins and Olympic history

Olympics: Nordic Combined-Team Gundersen LH / 4x5 km

Before ski jumping and cross-country skiing were contested as separate and individual events, Nordic combined was a popular competition at carnivals throughout Norway in the 1800s. Nordic combined is one of six sports that have appeared in every Olympic Winter Games (along with figure skating, ice hockey, cross-country skiing, ski jumping and speed skating), beginning in 1924. Norway, swept the podium for the first four Winter Olympics: 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1936.

Before 2010, the terms “individual” and “sprint” were used to describe what today is known as the normal hill and large hill. The large hill was introduced as a second event in 2002.

1924 Chamonix

Norwegian skiers swept the top four places at the inaugural Olympic Nordic combined competition. Thorleif Haug won gold, Thoralf Stromstad earned the silver, and Johan Grottumsbraten took home the bronze.

Haug had already won gold medals in the 50km and 15km events in cross-country skiing. He also won a ski jumping bronze medal at the same Olympics, but was downgraded to fourth place after a scoring computational error was discovered 50 years later (and 40 years after Haug’s death).

1928 St. Moritz

Norway’s Johan Grottumsbraaten, a bronze medalist from 1924, won the Nordic combined event for the first of two consecutive Games. Grottumsbraaten also won a gold medal in cross-country skiing (in the 15km event) at the 1928 Games. He won three Nordic combined medals and three cross-country skiing medals in his Olympic career, which spanned three Games.

1932 Lake Placid

Norwegian athletes swept the top four places and Grottumsbraaten won his second consecutive Nordic combined gold. He finished his two-sport (Nordic combined and cross-country) career with six Olympic medals: three golds, one silver and two bronzes. He is one of only two men who have won the individual Nordic combined competition (now known as the individual normal hill) more than once. (East Germany’s Ulrich Wehling is the other, from 1972 to 1980.) Ole Stenen took home the silver and Hans Vinjarengen won the bronze.

1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Norway swept the medals for the fourth-straight time. By the conclusion of the 1936 Games, the 12 Nordic combined medals that had been awarded in Olympic history all belonged to Norwegians. Oddbjorn Hagen won the gold, Olaf Hoffsbakken took the silver, and Sverre Brodahl earned the bronze.

1948 St. Moritz

At the fifth Winter Games, 24 years after the first Nordic combined medals were awarded, a non-Norwegian athlete finally won a medal in the sport. In fact, Norway was shut out of the medals, as Finns Heikki Hasu and Martti Huhtala won gold and silver, respectively, and Sweden’s Sven Israelsson won bronze.

1952 Oslo

For the first time in Olympic competition, the jumping portion of the Nordic combined event was held before the cross-country skiing portion. Simon Slattvik’s victory marked the first time that an athlete from the host nation won the gold medal in Nordic combined. On February 18, the streets of Oslo were reportedly full of Norwegians celebrating the same-day victories of Slattvik, speed skater Hjalmar Andersen and cross-country skier Hallgeir Brenden. Slattvik is the oldest Olympic gold medalist in the history of the sport. Finland’s Heikji Hasu earned the silver medal ahead of Norway’s Sverre Stenersen, who earned his second bronze medal.

1956 Cortina D’Ampezzo

Sverre Stenersen became the sixth Norwegian champion in seven Winter Games. For the first time, the cross-country race was contested over distance of 15km. (From 1924 through 1952, the cross-country race had been 18km; from 1956 through 2006, the cross-country race was held over 15km; beginning in 2010, the cross-country race was 10km.) Sweden’s Bengt Eriksson picked up the silver medal and Poland’s Franciszek Gasienica-Gron earned the bronze medal.

1960 Squaw Valley

Germany’s Georg Thoma, a postman from the Black Forest, became the first non-Scandinavian champion. Tormond Knutsen of Norway earned the silver and Nikolai Gusakov from the Soviet Union won the bronze.

1964 Innsbruck

Norway’s Tormod Knutsen, sixth in 1956 and the silver medalist from the 1960 Games, won gold. Thoma, the defending champion, won the jumping portion of the competition but was only the 10th-fastest skier. He won the bronze. Nikolai Kiselyov from the Soviet Union earned the silver.

1968 Grenoble

Franz Keller of Germany led after the jumping part of the event but then finished only 13th in the skiing portion; the performance was just enough for the gold medal. Switzerland’s Alois Kaelin, the eventual silver medalist, placed a dismal 24th in the jumping, but still almost won the gold medal. His event-leading 15km time was almost three-and-a-half minutes faster than Keller’s; had he finished his cross-country race 2.3 seconds faster, he would have won the gold. Andreas Kunz from East Germany won the bronze medal.

1972 Sapporo

At 19 years of age, East Germany’s Ulrich Wehling won the first of what would be three consecutive gold medals in Nordic combined. He remains the youngest Olympic gold medalist in the history of the sport. His countryman Karl-Heinz Luck earned the bronze. Rauno Miettinen of Finland won the silver.

1976 Innsbruck

East Germany’s Ulrich Wehling became only the second person – behind Norway’s Johan Grottumsbraaten in 1928 and 1932 – to win the individual Nordic combined competition twice (now known as the individual normal hill). Countryman Konrad Winkler earned the bronze, while Germany’s Urban Hettich earned the silver.

1980 Lake Placid

Ulrich Wehling of East Germany, who like in 1976 was the competition’s top jumper, became the first man to win three Olympic gold medals in Nordic combined (Finland’s Samppa Lajunen won three gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake Games and Austria’s Felix Gottwald won three gold medals between 2006 and 2010). Wehling also is one of only two athletes to win three career medals in the individual Nordic combined event (now known as the individual normal hill). His countryman Konrad Winkler again earned the bronze. Finland’s Jouko Karjalainen earned the silver.

1984 Sarajevo

Norway’s Tom Sandberg won the gold, finishing ahead of a trio of Finns. Jouko Karjalainen took the silver and Jukka Ylipulli earned the bronze.

1988 Calgary

For the first time in Olympic competition, the start of the cross-country skiing race was ordered and timed according to the result of the ski jumping. In the new system, known as the “Gundersen Method,” the leader after the ski jumping would be the first to start skiing. The subsequent competitors would start to ski according to how their ski jumping performance compared with the leader’s. Under this system, the first athlete to cross the finish line is the winner of the gold medal.

Because of delays caused by poor weather, the ski jumping and cross-country skiing were held on the same day. Switzerland’s Hippolyt Kempf started the cross-country race in third place, 70 seconds behind the leader, but ended up winning the gold medal by 19 seconds. Klaus Sulzenbacher of Austria captured the silver and the Soviet Union’s Allar Levandi won the bronze.

A second Nordic combined event, the team jumping competition, was introduced in 1988. In that year (and in 1992 and 1994), teams consisted of three athletes. In 1988 and 1992, each team member took three jumps, with the best one counting. The cross-country skiing portion consisted of a 3x10km relay.

West Germany won the inaugural team competition. Kempf, who added Switzerland’s team silver to his individual gold, and Sulzenbacher, who won silver in individual and bronze for Austria in team, became the first Nordic combined athletes to win two medals at one Games.

1992 Albertville

France had never before won an Olympic medal in Nordic combined, an obscure sport in that country. But in front of a thrilled home crowd, Fabrice Guy, who had been enjoying a breakthrough season in 1991-92, won easily. Guy’s teammate Sylvain Guillaume improved from 13th in the jumping to win a surprise silver. Austria’s Klaus Sulzenbacher, the 1988 silver medalist, earned bronze.

In the team event, the Japanese athletes jumped extremely well en route to winning Japan’s first Olympic Nordic combined medal, a gold. Norway claimed silver with the fastest skiing performance. Austria earned bronze, giving Sulzenbacher his fourth career medal (and third bronze).

1994 Lillehammer

Japan’s Kenji Ogiwara, the overwhelming favorite in the individual competition entering the Games, had an uncharacteristically poor jumping performance (sixth-best among competitors) and ultimately finished out of the medals in fourth. Norway’s Fred Boerre Lundberg thrilled the Nordic-crazed home fans with his unexpected victory; fans sang the Norwegian national anthem as skied his final lap. Japan’s Takanori Kono earned the silver and Norway’s Bjarte Engen Vik captured the bronze.

Ogiwara got a small measure of revenge a few days later in the team competition. Japan built an insurmountable lead after a superior jumping performance and coasted to a second consecutive team gold medal. Norway won silver and Switzerland earned the bronze. Like the 1988 and 1992 Games, each team consisted of three members and the relay was 3x10km. However, unlike in 1988 and 1992, each athlete took two jumps, with both counting.

1998 Nagano

Norway’s Bjarte Engen Vik won gold in the individual and team events, becoming the first athlete to win both at the same Games. Finland’s Samppa Lajunen earned a silver while Russia’s Valery Stolyarov earned the bronze.

Beginning in Nagano, the team event structure changed to include four athletes instead of three. The relay became a 4x5km race, and each team member had to jump twice with both jumps counting. Norway won gold in the team event, followed by Finland for silver and France for bronze.

2002 Salt Lake

A second individual event, then known as the sprint but now known as the large hill, was introduced at the Salt Lake Games. Finland’s Samppa Lajunen won gold in both individual events in Salt Lake and powered the Finns to team gold as well as Finland swept all three gold medals. Jaako Tallus, also from Finland, captured the silver on the normal hill while Germany’s Felix Gottwald took the bronze. On the large hill, two Germans followed Lajunen on the podium: Ronny Ackermann (silver) and Gottwald (bronze). Germany earned team event silver and Austria took the bronze.

2006 Torino

Nordic combined was principally dominated by three men at the 2006 Torino Games: Austra’s Felix Gottwald, Germany’s Georg Hettich and Norway’s Magnus Moan. All three men reached the podium in both individual events, while Moan was the only one not to reach the podium in the team event. Gottwald won the sprint, capturing his first individual gold medal, and added another medal with his silver in the individual. Hettich earned gold in the individual and bronze in the sprint. After Norway was shut out of the medals in 2002, Moan collected silver in the sprint and bronze in the individual. In the team event, Austria improved upon its bronze from Salt Lake by winning the event, while Germany took silver for the second straight Games. Finland won its third consecutive medal claiming bronze, as 17-year-old Anssi Koivuranta became the youngest Nordic combined medalist in Olympic history.

2010 Vancouver

The Vancouver Games introduced a slightly different format to Nordic combined competition. The cross-country skiing portions of each event were standardized to 10 km, so the terms “individual” and “sprint” were made obsolete. Instead, what was formerly called the “individual” became the individual normal hill (K95) and now included one jump on the normall hill plus a 10 km cross-country ski. The “sprint” became the individual large hill (K125) and consisted of one jump on the large hill plus a 10 km cross-country skiing portion. In the team event, each of the four team members takes only one jump (formerly two) followed by a 4x5km cross-country skiing relay.

France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis claimed the gold on the individual normal hill, followed by the U.S.’ Johnny Spillane for silver and Alessandro Pittin of Italy for bronze. Todd Lowick and Bill Demong, both of the United States, were fourth and sixth, respectively. The final U.S. competitor, Brett Camerota, was 36th.

On the large hill, two U.S. athletes stood on the podium: Demong took home the gold while Spillane earned another silver in Vancouver. Austria’s Bernhard Gruber, claimed the bronze. The U.S.’ Lowick and Taylor Fletcher finished 13th and 45th, respectively.

Austria repeated as gold medalists in the team event. The U.S. team members, Lodwick, Demong, Spillane, and Camerota, landed on the podium with the silver (the U.S.’ fourth medal of the Vancouver Games), followed by Germany’s team for the bronze.

2014 Sochi

Eric Franzel of Germany took home the gold on the normal hill ahead of Japan’s Akito Watabe. The bronze went to Magnus Krog of Norway. The Americans, Bill Demong, Bryan Fletcher, and Taylor Fletcher, finished 24th, 26th, and 33rd, respectively. The U.S.’ Todd Lodwick, who carried the flag at the 2014 Opening Ceremony, completed the ski jumping portion of the normall hill but did not start the cross-country skiing event.

On the large hill, Norway took gold in the form of Joergen Graabak and silver in the form of Magnus Moan. Germany’s Fabian Riessle claimed the bronze. Taylor Fletcher was the highest-finishing U.S. athlete, finishing 20th.

Germany overtook Austria for the gold on the team event, with Austria earning the silver medal. Norway, whose team included Graabak, Krog, and Moan, took the bronze medal.