There are three kinds of skiing events at the Winter Olympics. Alpine skiing consists of the traditional events in which skiers race down a hill: the slalom, the giant slalom, the downhill. Freestyle skiing is the newest discipline, with skiers spinning and flipping in the halfpipe or over moguls.
That leaves the Nordic events, specifically defined as ones in which athletes’ heels are not affixed to the skis. The two main Nordic events are quite different: cross-country skiing, which requires endurance, and ski jumping, the daredevil event that rewards courage, aerodynamic form and a slight body.
So why not take these two disparate events and combine them? That’s Nordic combined.
Skiers start by taking two ski jumps, scoring points for distance and style. Next up is a 10-kilometer cross-country race. Competitors start based on their performance in the ski jumping: The best ski jumper takes off first, then the others follow in staggered fashion. The first skier across the line wins.
Three gold medals are awarded in Nordic combined. There is an individual event on the large ski jumping hill and another on the smaller, “normal” hill. There is also a team event in which four athletes jump, then participate in a cross-country relay. Nordic combined is a men’s only event at the Olympics.
Among the contenders at the 2018 Games are several Germans, including the five-time reigning World Cup winner, Eric Frenzel, and the Japanese Akito Watabe. Norway, though, is historically the king of the event.
The United States had a brief heyday in 2010, winning four medals. But those are the only medals for the country in its history. In Sochi, Russia, in 2014, no American placed higher than 27th.
“Nordic combined is such a funky sport,” Alan Ashley, the managing director of sport performance for the United States Olympic Committee, said in 2010. “It takes a really long time to, first of all, develop the skills and the physical capability in both of these disciplines, and then to figure out how to balance the two.”