Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Dennis Passa
The Associated Press
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – It had been a long time coming for Norway, the birthplace of Nordic combined.
The Associated Press Norway’s Joergen Graabak is congratulated after winning the gold during the Nordic combined individual Gundersen large hill competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Joergen Graabak took gold and Magnus Moan the silver in the large hill event Tuesday at the Sochi Olympics, giving Norway its first one-two finish in a Nordic combined event in 78 years.
Norway has the most Olympic medals in the sport – 12 – but Graabak’s win was the country’s first since Nagano 1998, when Bjarte Engen Vik won the individual and team events.
Graabak, who was initially left out of Norway’s Olympic squad, then added as a large hill specialist, broke away from a five-man group with about 100 meters left in the cross-country race.
In steady rain, Graabak finished six-tenths of a second ahead of Moan. Fabian Riessle of Germany was 1.6 seconds behind and took the bronze.
Normal hill gold medal winner Eric Frenzel of Germany was an uncertain starter due to a virus, but led after the ski jumping. He faded badly, however, in the 10-kilometer cross-country ski race to finish 10th.
Norway had not won gold and silver in a Nordic combined event since Oddbjorn Hagen and Olaf Hoffsbakken did it in the normal hill event at Garmish-Partenkirchen in Germany in 1936.
Graabak finished sixth in the ski jumping portion and started 42 seconds after Frenzel, but quickly made up the deficit with the German unable to hold his lead for long.
“It’s pretty obvious how I feel,” the 22-year-old Norwegian said. “It’s a bit surreal. I will need time to enjoy the moment. My tactic was to ski well and hopefully to stay with the top guys.”
He finished in a time of 23 minutes, 27.5 seconds on the course adjacent to the hill complex at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center.
Moan won Olympic silver and bronze in the individual events at Turin in 2006.
“Honestly, on the last hill I didn’t feel that I had the same legs as usual, Moan said. “I’m happy to be back on the podium ... this means that I still have something to do in this game.”
Akito Watabe of Japan, who won silver behind Frenzel in the normal hill, was sixth, followed by Jason Lamy Chappuis of France, the normal hill gold medal winner from Vancouver in 2010. Lamy Chappuis was among a 10-man pack that alternated the lead for much of the race.
“It was a hard race and difficult to keep a good position,” said Watabe. “I fell down on the corner of the downhill. And after that it was hard to catch a groove again.”
Germany might have had another man on the podium but Johannes Rydzek fell on the final turn after appearing to hit the back of Graabak’s skis. He finished eighth.
Six seconds after Rydzek, Frenzel, the runaway leader in the World Cup standings this season with seven wins, crossed the line. Without the virus, he likely would have threatened for another gold.
“We all had the chance to win a medal, but it did not work out,” said Frenzel. “I am looking forward to the team event (on Thursday).”
Defending gold medalist Billy Demong of Park City, Utah, finished in 31st place, 2:13.8 behind the winner. The leading American was Taylor Fletcher in 20th, two places ahead of his older brother Bryan, both from Steamboat Springs, Colo.
American veteran Todd Lodwick, still recovering from a left shoulder injury, did not start the cross-country race after finishing 30th in ski jumping.
Earlier, Frenzel scored 129 points in the ski jump in day-long rain, two better than Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen, who finished ninth overall.
The rain was a first at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center since the Sochi Games began. While organizers have in previous days used a synthetic material to fashion a palm tree on sunny days and a heart on Valentine’s Day in the landing area, they turned it into dolphin Tuesday in keeping with the soggy theme.
The showers didn’t appear to play a part in an injury to Japan’s Taihei Kato, who broke his left arm after crashing. Kato landed awkwardly, lost his left ski and then fell hard on to his left elbow.