What, you haven't heard of Nordic combined? Well you better ask somebody, because the U.S. team is coming on strong in this mix of ski jumping and cross-country skiing. The competition starts with ski jumps -- judged on style and distance -- and the results of the jump portion determine the staggered starting times for the subsequent cross-country race. Whoever finishes the race portion first wins it all. (Women do not yet ski jump in the Olympics, so Nordic combined will only be competed by men in Vancouver).
The other athletes to watch wear red, white and blue. The United States has never won an Olympic medal in Nordic combined, but expectations are sky high after Americans
Demong and Lodwick combined to win all three of the individual events at last year's world championships. The U.S. was a favorite in the only other event, the 4x5-kilometer team relay, but Demong lost his competition bib -- he tucked it in his suit, and it somehow slipped down his leg -- and was disqualified. Nonetheless, the U.S. team was the cream of the class at the world championships.
The U.S. relay team could be the one to beat. Demong, Lodwick and Spillane were on the team that finished fourth in Salt Lake City in '02 and seventh in Turin in '06, and all three are at the top of their games and flush with confidence.
"It gives me goose bumps to think that we're standing on the precipice of what we could achieve," says head coach
The relay is going to be a ferocious free-for-all. Austria, Germany, Norway and the U.S. all have at least two of the top 12 Nordic combined athletes in the world, and Finland isn't far off. Norway's
Nordic combined athletes aren't just picking the suit color they think is the hippest for the jump. The different-colored suits have different air resistance properties and actually function differently, with some flying through the air faster than others. The suits also have different air resistance in the front and back. In order to restrict athletes from creating flying squirrel parachute suits, though, suits are tested by event officials to make sure that they fit the athlete snugly, and that every section is permeable to a minimum prescribed amount of air flow.
Individual Normal Hill/10-kilometer: Feb. 14