This year was a big year for women’s Nordic combined racing, not in the way 2020 was a “big year”, but in a record-breaking, moving forward to better things kind of way. For those of you who don’t follow Nordic combined, here’s what you need to know: Competitions involve ski jumping, in which athletes are scored based on style and distance, and later in the day, they compete in a pursuit-start skate race based on their performance on the jumps. It is also the last sport at the Olympics to be contested only by men.
The 2020/21 season marked the first year of a World Cup circuit for women’s Nordic combined racing. Enter Tara Geraghty-Moats, who won the inaugural FIS Nordic Combined World Cup in Ramsau, Austria and took home the Overall Crystal Globe for the season. Geraghty-Moats grew up in West Fairlee, Vermont and has been competing on the Ski Jumping World Cup circuit since 2014. As FIS has taken steps towards gender equality in the sport of Nordic Combined, Geraghty-Moats has been at the forefront. When the Continental Cup was established in the 2018/19 season Geraghty-Moats placed first in eleven out of the twelve competitions that year. In 2019/20, she took home the gold in every single Continental Cup race. Heading into 2020/21 with the first World Cup circuit, Geraghty-Moats looked to be the strong favorite. “This was our first ever season of women’s Nordic combined World Cup and I was very excited about it,” said Geraghty-Moats, “going into the season I knew that there was a possibility of cancellation but I was really hoping for the best, trying to stay optimistic.”
In Ramsau for the first-ever women’s World Cup event, Geraghty-Moats was in fifth after the ski jumping leg, having a 39-second deficit to make up on her competitor, Gyda Westvold Hansen of Norway. Geraghty-Moats did just that over the 5k skate, finishing 1.5 seconds ahead of the Norwegian and becoming the first women to be awarded World Cup gold in the sport’s history. The two other World Cup competitions scheduled for the season were canceled due to COVID, but World Championships went on as planned in Oberstdorf, Germany.
In Oberstdorf, Geraghty-Moats came in fifth after starting the cross-country portion in 18th position starting 2:13 minutes behind the leader. On Instagram, Geraghty-Moats wrote, “I am incredibly proud I got 5th at the World Championships. I felt like I used the opportunity and support I had to its fullest potential… Complications this season meant I was not able to ski jump as much as I needed to. I was not a good enough ski jumper to overcome only having 205 jumps since March 2020. I did the best I could and that is all I can ask of myself.”
At the conclusion of a historic season, Geraghty-Moats became the first woman to take home the FIS Nordic Combined Overall crystal globe. To this achievement, Geraghty-Moats wrote, “We did what we could with what we had. We made history and came home with a crystal globe. We didn’t have a lot but we had each other. I’m proud of this team. These girls are tough, I’m honored to have them as my teammates.” Speaking to Geraghty-Moats after the season’s end she reflected on this achievement by saying, “It’s pretty wild, it’s a huge honor. After I was awarded [the globe] I kind of woke up and had to pinch myself that I was the first-ever globe winner. I’m really proud that all my hard work paid off and not only that I helped the sport move forward but that I was able to get the first overall.”
Despite the progress towards parity in the sport, many challenges still remain. The men’s Nordic combined World Cup schedule this season included 13 venues and competitions (six of which were cancelled due to COVID), whereas the women’s schedule only included four, three of which were cancelled. Geraghty-Moats said, “In the spring (2020) we thought there would be about eight World Cups, four weekends, which although that isn’t too much we were excited for the first year of the World Cup. We didn’t know how many were going to get cancelled but it was going to be a good start. And then going through the season more and more started getting cancelled and it was pretty hard to keep our motivation.”
On the topic of parity, Geraghty-Moats acknowledged that this season was a big step forward, “it wasn’t as big as we wanted it to be because there weren’t that many World Cups but it is a huge step towards being included in the Olympics, we had our World Championships which was huge and a very successful competition but it wasn’t as big a year as we had hoped for,” said Geraghty-Moats. Even after an inaugural World Cup season, women’s Nordic combined will not be included in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
“I would really encourage people to follow women’s Nordic combined, take an interest in it and support the female Nordic combined athletes who are trying to make waves in the sport,” said Geraghty-Moats. “I guess I would challenge everyone… to engage in our story and be an active part of moving this sport forward because at the end of the day, sport is a business and we need more fans and more attention to move this forward. And I think that is starting to happen, especially after the World Championships, but the more involvement we can have, the better for gender equality in the sport and better for the ski community as a whole.”
Nordic combined fans can expect to see more of Tara Geraghty-Moats as she continues to push the boundaries of the sport and compete at the highest level. “It will be a season I tell my grandkids about,” Geraghty-Moats said, “I got the overall in the middle of a pandemic in the first-ever season of women’s Nordic combined. Like you can’t even say that without going like, wow, what?! There is only forward, only upward to go for women’s Nordic combined and I’m really excited to see the progress we will make in the coming years.”
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.