This summer, U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett expressed his frustration with zero-centimeters of leeway when it comes to form-fitting jump suits. If the new rule passed down from the International Ski Federation (FIS) last spring remained, athletes and their coaches would be spending more time at sewing machines than talking tactics, technique or recovery.
Yet once again, the rules changed. At the FIS Autumn Meetings in Zurich, council members decided to allow up to 2 centimeters of extra fabric beyond each individual’s body size. That was down from +6 centimeters last season, but it was better than nothing. In July at the Summer Grand Prix in Sochi, Russia, American Billy Demong was disqualified because he hadn’t tailored his suit between competitions. Officials randomly checked Demong and discovered his jump suit had 3 centimeters of extra space.
Jarrett said in an October phone interview that the +2 centimeter rule, which follows international ski-jumping regulations, was a compromise.
“It’s essentially tight suits, but it’s enough wiggle room that you’re not gonna have to constantly sew suits,” he said.
Also new to nordic combined this year, a World Cup final for those ranking in the overall top 30 is scheduled for March 15-16 at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway. The competition will entail two jumps (one more than usual) and a 15-kilometer individual gundersen start (5 k longer than the normal skate distance). It was supposed to happen last season, but shortened due to bad weather. (American Bryan Fletcher won the one-jump, 10 k final.)
Finally, fans watching the Nordic Combined World Cups in person might enjoy the new Athletes’ Zone, where the top 10 skiers from the jumping portion will hang around to sign autographs until that competition ends. FIS reasoned this will make the athletes more accessible to both spectators and television crews.
FasterSkier asked Jarrett to elaborate on each of these alterations and how they affect the sport at its highest level.
1. Suit changes:
FasterSkier: Is +2 centimeters workable?
Dave Jarrett: It’s clearly not optimal as far as jumping performance goes, and it’s not, in my opinion, serving the purpose of mitigating the wind. I don’t know if there’s a solution with the skis or making them not as wide, or maybe just rethinking it. If they’re going to go back to having competitions with a bigger [wind] corridor that they should go back to bigger suits and give people a chance to at least make a good jump in tail wind. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s going to continue to be a problem as long as there’s wind involved.
[Note: Wind corridors are designed to compensate the impact of headwinds and tailwinds. According to a FIS press release, a proposal to expand the corridor from +/- 1 m/s to +2/-1 m/s will be submitted to the FIS Council on Nov. 3.]
FS: What might some solutions be?
DJ: Maybe going in the other direction of being more aerodynamic will make it possible to jump in tailwind and achieve relatively good distances because as it is now when you get tailwind with these tight suits, you’re screwed. You have no chance. It’s even more of a spread, headwind versus tailwind, with tight suits than it was with normal plus-six-centimeter suits.
To be honest, it has been suggested and it might be a good idea for nordic combined to go its own direction when it comes to equipment because the body types in nordic combined and ski jumping are slightly different. There’s a big enough difference that maybe what isn’t a big factor for ski jumping is a big factor for nordic combined. Maybe we should examine looking at our own rules when it comes to suits so when you do a nordic combined World Cup, you have your own nordic combined set of rules for equipment. It’s something to think about. Traditionally, it’s never happened.
Nordic combined has always followed the jumping rules just because it makes it easier for the nordic combined skiers to cross over into jumping, there’s not a lot of jumpers that just jump into nordic combined competitions because they don’t race. So it might be that for junior-national age … have the same rules for jumping and nordic combined, and once you get to Junior Worlds, the World Cup rules apply for nordic combined and jumping as they already do. Maybe that would be a better thing for nordic combined.
FS: Could this centimeter rule change again soon?
DJ: It’ll stay to plus-two for this season and World Championships, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they change it again next spring to something else or material changes or something.
2. World Cup Final
FS: A good thing for the sport?
DJ: It’s OK, but I think we already have enough trouble getting one jump finalized; it is a step backward to take two jumps. Once a year is fine though, and 15 k race will be cool, too.
FS: What do you mean you’re ‘having trouble’ finalizing one jump?
DJ: We have wind calculations and equipment modifications to mitigate the wind just to get one jump off then you’re just making it twice as hard making a competition where there’s two jumps even though it’s cut to 30 [athletes]. It’s one competition and it’s not really that big a deal. If there was a proposal to go back to half the competitions having two jumps and a 15 k, then we’d have to seriously reexamine the rules with the wind and everything and TV time because it would be impossible. It would take forever to do two jumps.
That’s also one of the arguments with the equipment. In ski jumping, they have two jumps, so if you get kind of hosed on one jump, you’ll have a second jump if you qualify that you might not get hosed. In nordic combined if you get hosed once, you’re screwed. You can’t make it up in cross country.
FS: What are your thoughts on the 15 k?
DJ: I think it will be good for [my athletes] and it would certainly be fun to do 15 k again. Like I said, for one competition it’s fine, and it’s kind of cool to go back to that for the final and only have the top 30. That was what the plan was when Bryan won, but the second jump got canceled.
3. Athletes’ Zone
FS: How will it change things?
DJ: Most likely the top 10 will be among the last 20 jumpers. It’s going to be the same faces and they’re just going to be sitting there. I think it’s more of a way to engage the live audience. I don’t know how much of a TV impact it’s going to have.
It depends on the venue and the timetable. If you have to leave the jumps to go to the cross country, or if you’re in a place where the cross country is at the jumps, and if the race is an hour after the jumping ends, then it’s not a lot of time so it’s going to be somewhat of a disadvantage for the guys that have to wait there.
Let’s say they’re number 20 on the start list and there’s 30 more guys to go and they end up first after their jump, if they stay in the top 10 they’re going to have to wait there for another half an hour until they finish the jumping competition. We’ll just have to see what it does.
Now it becomes more important that those guys have a bag packed so the PT at the bottom of the hill can just hand them their backpack. They can change out of their jumping boots and I don’t know [about] their suit, but at least start eating and getting ready for the race.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.