February 5, 2006
Nordic combined a true test
GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

The Nordic combined event at the Winter Olympics is an interesting day to say the least.

You get up in the morning and whip down a ramp and take off for a several-second flight (known as the ski jump) without benefit of parachute or protection other than a helmet and try to land on your skis with one ski in front of the other.

Then you take a three-hour break before you strain every muscle in your body and your cardiovascular system to the max as you cross-country ski in a race to the medals.

The Nordic combined event naturally began in Northern Europe. The rise in skiing's popularity led to an increase in winter festivals focused on the sport.

In 1892, the first Holmenkollen Ski Festival took place with the main attraction between the Nordic combined event. Actually, a separate ski jumping event was not held until 1933.

The sport was included at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France and has been on the program ever since. World Championships have been held since 1925. It continues to this day to be an event open only to men.

Originally the event ran with the cross-country skiing portion first and then the ski-jumping portion. However, officials soon realized that the deficits created during the cross-country portion were too great to be overcome in the ski jumping portion and, in 1952, they reversed the order.

Traditionally, Norway always has delivered top athletes in the sport, but Finland, Germany, Austria and Japan also are among the top nations in the Nordic combined.

Surprisingly, Japan has had considerable success in the team event without doing well in the individual event.

Nordic combined skiing is not exactly a sport in which Canadians excel. In fact, over all the years only four Canadians have made it to the Olympics in this tough sport, three of them from the Servold family of Camrose, Alta.

Jon Servold is in Italy as coach of Canada's Nordic combined and jumping team. He competed for Canada in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.

His father, Irvin, placed 25th in the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley and his uncle, Clarence, wound up 19th in a special cross-country race in the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

Jon was the only Canadian competitor in the Nordic combined event in the 1988 Games at Calgary.

THE SPORT

Nordic combined is an event where big leads after the ski jumping portion are very vulnerable and, in many cases, surmounted in all three of the disciplines.

There are the event disciplines in the Nordic combined: Individual, team and sprint.

The team event was introduced in Calgary at the 1988 Games. The sprint event was only introduced at the last games in Salt Lake City.

In the individual event, each competitor takes two jumps off the normal hill.

The jumps are evaluated using the same method as the separate ski jumping event with points for form and distance factoring into the final total.

The totals are then used to determine the starting times for the cross-country portion later in the day and skiers are started according to the Gundersen method (which assigns staggered start times based on ski jumping points).

The cross-country portion is 15 kilometres in length and skiers use either the classical or freestyle method of skiing. The first skier to cross the finish line is the winner.

The sprint event follows the same method with a few notable differences. The competitors only get one jump (from the large hill) and the cross-country race using the freestyle skiing technique is only 7.5 kilometres in length.

The team event involves four members each taking two jumps from the normal hill.

The eight scores are tallied and the first skiers from each team are again started in a staggered fashion according to the Gundersen method.

The team complete a 4x5 kilometre relay with winner being the team whose last skier crosses the finish line first.

TRAINING

Because of the opposite nature of the two disciplines involved in the Nordic combined event, competitors have to split their training time in order to prepare for both.

It's not bad enough that there are two disciplines to prepare for, but the disciplines require opposite types of muscles. Imagine a track and field athlete trying to be a 110-metre hurdler and a 10,000 metre runner -- on the same day!

First, the athlete needs the fast-twitch muscles that are necessary to provide the power and explosiveness required to perform a ski jump. Second, the athlete needs the slow-twitch muscles necessary to provide the endurance required to ski cross-country for several miles.

Ski jumpers tend to be lean and lightweight. With a jump lasting only a few seconds, the athlete needs quick reflexes. Thus, overall strength with an emphasis on weight training along with plyometrics and speed training make up the jump training portion.

On the other hand, running, cycling, roller-skiing are the mainstays to develop the endurance conditioning and slow-twitch muscles required to cross-country ski for significant distances at top speed.

OLYMPIC GOLDS

1994: Individual event: Fred Borre Lundberg (NOR) Team event: Japan

1998: Individual event: Bjarte Engen Vik (NOR)

Team event: Norway

2002: Individual event: Samppa Lajunen (FIN) Team event: Finland

DID YOU KNOW?

Jason Myslicki will be the first Canadian to compete in Nordic combined since the 1988 Games.