Don't know anything about Nordic combined? No problem. Here are all the basics you need to know before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are right around the corner! That means it's time to watch sports you might not have seen in four years. To help you feel at least a little more informed—either to impress your friends or fake your way through a conversation with an actual expert—SI will be providing rookie's guides to each of the 15 sports. These will be published daily, Monday through Friday, from December 4-22.
Chances are you're relatively unfamiliar with the sport of Nordic combined unless you're obsessed with the Olympics or ski-based sports. The sport's name is a giveaway: It involves two different disciplines, combined into one event, and it originated in Norway, so yes—it involves snow, mountains and skiing. Surprise!
There are three separate Nordic combined events at the Olympics. At Sochi 2014, Norway won two gold medals (naturally) and Germany won one. Ahead of the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, here's a closer look at the sport of Nordic combined.
How did it start?
Skiing is something of a national pastime in Norway. Nordic combined was the main event at the country's Holmenkollen ski festival, which started in 1892 and soon developed a reputation beyond Norway's borders, drawing competitors from Sweden and other neighboring countries. Even King Olav V of Norway competed in the 1920s. (Fun Olympics fact about King Olav V: He won gold at the 1928 Olympics in a sailing competition.)
Nordic combined is an original Olympic sport, debuting in 1924 at the first Winter Olympics. Though there are multiple formats, the event essentially combines cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Unsurprisingly, Norway has dominated the competition, winning 30 medals. Their closest competitor, Finland, has just 14, though West and East Germany dominated in the late '60s and '70s, combining to win four consecutive gold medals from 1968 to 1980.
Nordic combined consisted of just one event, the 10 km individual normal hill, until 1988, when the Olympics added a team competition. Originally the 3x10km from 1988 through 1994, the competition switched to a 4x5km format in 1998. The 10 km individual large hill was introduced in 2002.
The sport has been exclusively contested by men at the Olympics since its debut. But that could soon change.
What's the format?
Nordic combined consists of cross-country skiing and ski jumping. If you've never watched either of those sports, they're exactly what they sound like. The cross-country skiing portion of Nordic combined is a physically grueling long-distance race, while the ski jumping portion involves competitors jumping off a big hill and somehow landing without breaking all of their bones. For those who have ever played the videogame SSX Tricky, it's kind of like the beginning of the Elysium Alps course, except with skiing instead of snowboarding.
There are three events, two of which are individual and one of which is a team competition: The 10 km individual normal hill, the 10 km individual large hill and the 4x5km relay. Both of the individual races involve a jump off a hill—the normal off a K98, the large off a K125—before a 10 kilometer cross-country race. The relay starts with a jump off a K125 hill and finishes with a four-man relay, with each competitor traveling five kilometers. That means athletes must possess tremendous jumping ability as well as the endurance required for cross-country skiing.
A total of 55 athletes will compete in Nordic combined at the 2018 Olympic Games. Each country can send a maximum of five competitors, depending on qualification. We're approaching the end of qualification, which started on July 1, 2016 and ends on Jan. 21, 2018. Competitors are selected primarily based on FIS World Cup standings over that time period, though the Continental Cup Standings are also a factor. (Learn more about qualifying here.)
The ski jump and cross-country portions of the event require different skills and thus different equipment. For cross-country skiing, competitors can use skis up to two meters long; for the jump, participants can use skis up to 145% of their height. Body mass index can also play a role in determining length if a competitor's BMI is below 21. Both sets of skis are relatively light.
How is a winner determined?
The competition starts with the jump. It isn't enough to just stick the landing. Five judges grade on both distance and style, awarding up to 20 points each. Competitors are trying to fly as far as possible. The scoring system is somewhat complex, as course conditions (like wind) can add or subtract points from a final score. The highest and lowest scores among the five judges are tossed. The remaining three scores are added together, meaning that theoretically the maximum score is 60 points.
OK, here's where it gets even more complex: The jump is scored on points, while the cross-country portion is scored on time. To calculate a final score, officials use something called the Gundersen method—a formula named for a Norweigen dude named Gunder Gundersen. Math is decidedly not my expertise, but I'll do my best to explain it below. (Side note: I would definitely read a Rookie's Guide to Math.)
The competition uses the ski jump results to determine the starting order of competitors in the cross-country skiing portion. For the 10 km individual competitions, the formula is as follows:
1 minute = 15 points .... 1 point = 4.000000 seconds
So if the No. 2 finisher in the ski jump scores one point worse than the top finisher, then the latter will start the cross-country race four seconds ahead of the former. The same formula is applied to every other competitor in relation to the top scorer.
The formula is slightly different for the relay, but the same general principles apply.
1 minute = 45 points .... 1 point = 1.333333 seconds
The competitor who crosses the finish line first wins gold.
Speaking of gold, the U.S. won its first gold medal in the Nordic combined team competition at Vancouver 2010. Team USA has won four medals in the sport all-time, including that lone gold.
Wait, so women don't compete?
Since Nordic combined became an Olympic sport, only men have participated. That's about to change, though: The International Ski Federation is debuting a women's Continental Cup competition during the 2017-18 season. The first national championships for women took place in October. And the FIS hopes a women's competition for Nordic combined is included in the 2022 Olympics.
When can I watch?
Now that you know how Nordic combined works, you're probably itching to watch. Good news: The 2018 Olympics are swiftly approaching. The three Nordic combined events will take place from Feb. 14–22.
Seriously, are you not hyped after watching that video? Get me to the top of that mountain. Actually don't because I can't ski.