Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Winter Olympic Preview - Nordic Combined

Nordic Combined is like a mediocre cocktail. It combines something awesome (ski jumping) and something relatively boring (cross country skiing). Since the IOC is still an old boy's club, women have some barriers to entry in multiple Olympic events. Despite an international Women's Ski Jumping circuit, women have yet to compete in Ski Jumping in the Olympics. Due to this, they are also prohibited from competition in Nordic Combined because it involves Ski Jumping.

Nordic Combined Preview

Events:

Individual Normal Hill
Individual Large Hill
Team

Both individual events work in the same format. Competitors ski jump first and are "seeded" based on their jumps. Competitors start the cross country portion in the order they placed in the ski jumping portion with each person starting seconds or minutes (based on their ski jumping result) behind the leader. From there, it is a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) race to the finish line. Obviously, the leader after the ski jumping session has an advantage getting to start the cross-country portion ahead of the field.

For the team event, each team has 4 skiers that jump first. Their jumping scores are aggregated and the team with the highest score gets to begin the cross-country portion first. The skiing part is a relay, with each of the four team members skiing 5 kilometers (about 3.1 miles).

Favorites

Four years ago in Turin, German George Hettich was ahead of the field in both the Normal Hill and Large Hill individual events. Hettich held on to win gold in Normal Hill by 9.8 seconds over Austrian Felix Gottwald, despite posting the 18th best time in the cross-country portion. Gottwald got his revenge in the large hill event, coming from 12th place (54 second delayed start) to pass Hettich and beat him by 9.6 seconds. However, Hettich and Gottwald are both over 30 coming into these games, and one has to wonder if some a younger competitor will knock them off. Those with a shot to do this are 23-year old Jason Lamy-Chappuis of France who finished 4th in the Large Hill and 11th in Normal Hill in Turin. American veterans Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong had a good showing last year at the World Championships and could pull a fast one on the European nations (Germany, Austria, Norway, and Finland) that have traditionally dominated the sport.

US Hopefuls

Not only do Lodwick and Demong have an outside shot at sneaking into the medals in the two individual events, but the team is drumming up some major buzz in the event. The US was the favorites in the relay at the World Championships last year but got disqualified when a skier lost his racing bib. The US has their deepest and most talented team yet. Could they shock the world (relatively speaking, this is Nordic Combined after all) and sweep golds in all three events?

Predictions

The Steelers n'at Pick: In the individual events, the US competitors are peaking coming off last year's World Championships. That being said, we're going to go out on a limb and take the US to sweep golds in Nordic Combined. Shocker? Yes. Improbable? Absolutely. But this might be the first year in a long, long time that we have the athletes to do it. Austria and Germany will push us in the team event, and Japan (winners of the relay at the last World Championships) could be a sleeper.

Three Rivers Burgh Blog Pick: Hettich is going to take home the gold here. Sure he is old and he might be over the hill but don't turn down your nose on those guys. Bill Guerin is older but he is the man. Do I base this Nordic Combined pick based on a Pittsburgh Penguin hockey player? Yea. Am I serious? Yea. I feel like I am about 50 years old so I guess I have something in common with the old folks.

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