Whistler, British Columbia – The first of two individual Olympic nordic combined competitions will be held today at Whistler Olympic Park. The United States is in the unique position of having three medal hopefuls – Todd Lodwick, Billy Demong, and Johnny Spillane. While unlikely, a US sweep of the podium is not out of the question.
The jumping portion of the competition will be held in under an hour at 10:00 at Whistler Olympic Park, followed by the 10km cross-country at 1:45.
In addition to the big three of Lodwick, Demong, and Spillane, Brett Camerota will start for the US.
The US has five skiers in Whistler with Taylor Fletcher joining the aforementioned quartet. One of the big subtexts for the US is who will get the final start spot in the team competition. Based on past performance, Camerota likely has the edge, but how he performs today could impact the final decision. The second individual competition is after the relay, so will not have any bearing on team selection.
According to US coach Dave Jarrett, the decision on the final spot will not be made until after the last training jump on the 22nd. The team competition is on the 23rd.
“It’s going to come down to how healthy everyone is,” said Jarrett. “We’re going to take it literally on a day-to-day basis.”
The US is favored to win a medal, so the spot comes with added pressure and the opportunity for gold.
But that is down the road, and today, the US will face off against the likes of Jason Lamy-Chapuis, the overall World Cup leader from France, Magnus Moan of Norway, a dangerous cross-country skier, and a strong German team.
Nordic Combined World Cups have featured a tightly packed field this year, with a number of group sprints. It has been hard for athletes to break away in the cross-country portion. The US usually has the advantage of having three skiers at the front, allowing for cycling-like team tactics.
Lamy-Chapuis, son of a French father and American mother, has already won five World Cup events this season and is looking to improve upon the two bronzes he brought home from the World Championships last year. An excellent jumper and strong skier, Lamy-Chapuis is the clear favorite at this point. Born in Missoula, Montana, Lamy-Chapuis moved to France in 1991. He posted the best jump in traniing on Thursday, a sign he is ready to go today.
He has something to prove after finishing just out of the medals at the 2006 Games.
Picking a favorite out of the three Americans is next to impossible. On any given day, all three are capable of victory. Demong started the seaosn slowly (at least for him), but came on strong in January. He won one of the pre-Olympic World Cup races here in Whistler last year as well. Spillane is currently the top ranked of the three and all have finished on the World Cup podium this season, with Demong and Spillane taking victories. Combined, they have six World Championship medals, but no Olympic medals. And the US has never won an Olympic medal in nordic combined.
“We’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in the position to win medals,” said Spillane. “We have to have very good days, but we don’t have to perform a miracle. We just have to keep doing things we are doing. This is the best chance we have had to do that, but nothing is given away.”
The road to the podium, however, will not be easy. In addition to Lamy-Chapuis, 2007 World Champion Hannu Manninen (FIN) has come out of retirement, and has focused exclusively on the Olympics. And while he has started just four races this season, after sitting out all last year, he won two of those starts, and finished 2nd in one other.
From there the list goes on – Moan, Kircheisen, Gottwald, Tande… But because the field has been coming together in the cross-country, it will be more difficult for a skier to pull of a surprise performance based on a strong jump. Chances are, a medal will require tactical racing and a strong kick in the 10k.
The format for nordic combined competitions has been simplified in recent years. The two individual events are almost identical, with the only difference being the size of the jump hill. Today’s event is held on the normal hill, while next week’s competition is on the large hill.
Each athlete has one trial jump, and then one scored competition jump. The distance of the jump is converted to points, added to style points, and then converted to time to determine the start of the cross-country.
Points are calculated as follows:
A jump to the K-point of the hill (the distance that determines the hill size – for the large hill this is 120 meters) is awarded 60 points. Each meter over the K-point is multiplied by 1.5 for the large hill and 2.0 for the normal hill, and added to 60.
Style points are also awarded for the jump. Five judges rank the competitors, subtracting points for each fault. A perfect socer is 20, and the lowest possible score for a standing jump is 10. The lowest and highest scores are dropped, the remaining three totaled and added to the distance points.
Athletes then start the cross-country based on points behind the top jumper. In individual competitions, every 15 points equals one minute. In the team event, 45 points equals one minute. This is because there are four athletes jumping so points will be 4x as large.
A quick example:
If Billy Demong jumps 95 meters on the normal hill (K-point = 90) he would receive 60+(95-90)*2.0 distance points. So 70 distance points. If he received style scores form the judges of 17, 18, 18.5, 19, 20, he would get another 55.5 points – the 17 and 20 being dropped. His total points would be 125.5.
If Jason Lamy-Chapuis posted the best jump with a score of 130.5, Demong would start 20 seconds back in the cross-country.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.