New to Nordic combined? You’ve come to the right place.
And who better to learn the sport from than U.S. gold medalist and five-time Olympian Billy Demong?
First off, let’s go over the basics:
Nordic combined is a mix of ski jumping and cross-country. In PyeongChang, there are three events -- all men’s events; the individual normal hill, the individual large hill and the team large hill. Each of those is comprised of a ski jumping portion, followed by a cross-country race later the same day. The individual competitions have a 10-kilometer race while the team event is a 4x5km relay.
Ski jumpers are given a points total based on distance and style, while the cross-country event is simply timed. So how do you get a cumulative score from points and time? Relax, you won’t have to do any math to keep up. By using the Gundersen method, named after creator Norway’s Gunder Gundersen -- yes, that’s really his name -- it’s as simple as whoever crosses the finish line first wins the gold medal.
But enough about the scoring, let’s hear from Demong, who is now the executive director at USA Nordic, on Team USA’s chances.
The U.S. is led by a set of brothers, Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. Newcomers Jasper Good, Ben Loomis and Ben Berend round out the roster. The two heavy hitters are the Fletcher brothers, though. Taylor -- the better skier, claims Demong -- is competing in his third Olympics, while Bryan -- the better jumper -- is appearing in his second Winter Games. The other four U.S. competitors are all making their Olympic debuts.
Starting with the Fletchers, here’s what Demong had to say about Team USA’s chances:
“The Nordic combined team is a little bit in transition now. We have the Fletcher brothers, who are the top two. They’ve both been on individual podiums. They’re certainly medal hopefuls. They have not been super consistent in terms of being on the podium. … We’ve worked very hard with both programs on sports psychology and mental toughness. Try to get some more consistency and focus. The Fletchers are still the leaders of the team in terms of athletic results.”
So the Fletchers have an outside shot at a medal but do they really have what it takes tothe match powerhouse German dynasty and gold-medal favorite Eric Frenzel?
“But I’ve seen dynasties come and go, including our own,” Demong said. “I think it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there. I know there’s a lot of teams, including ours, who definitely have adjusted what we’re doing in response to what we saw [from the Germans] last year. I think they will be a force this year for sure. But I would anticipate that they’ll be more mix ups this year than there was last year. I think last year caught everybody off guard.”
Demong believes the U.S. is building something special, but it may not be until 2020 in Beijing that we get to see that polished product.
“But these are young athletes who are developing rapidly … but realistically, looking down the road, they’re going to start really getting their experience in the next couple years and going into Beijing,” Demong said. “We’re targeting that as our Olympics to rebirth some real contenders on both teams.”