Soft snow, hard race. Eric Frenzel had the best jump and seemed to be toying with the field through much of the cross-country race, finally turning on the turbo for the last 200 meters for the win.
Sport: Nordic combined
Event: Men’s normal hill (one jump from normal hill, 10k cross-country race)
Medalists: Eric Frenzel (Germany), Akito Watabe (Japan), Magnus Krog (Norway)
SportsMyriad projections: Jason Lamy Chappuis (France), Eric Frenzel (Germany), Mikko Kokslien (Norway)
How U.S. fared: Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick were part of a big medal breakthrough in 2010. They’re back but a bit older and banged up, along with the younger Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. The aim here is a team medal.
Lodwick, the 37-year-old six-time Olympian, had a decent jump. Demong’s was slightly better. Bryan Fletcher, who has a World Cup win, is better at skiing but was still disappointed in his jump. Taylor Fletcher, who has a World Cup podium, also is better at skiing but took himself completely out of the picture with his jump, placing last by a wide margin.
Athletes’ jumps determine when they start the cross-country race. Demong would start 1:33 back, followed quickly by Lodwick (1:34). Bryan Fletcher would start 1:44 back. Taylor Fletcher was all alone, 2:34 back.
Lodwick opted not to race the cross-country stage. Demong pulled across in 24th, 1:49 back. B-Fletcher was a few seconds later in 26th. T-Fletcher passed a lot of people on the course and and placed 33rd, which bodes well for his leg in the all-important team event to come.
What happened: The first jumper, young Russian Evgeny Klimov, sat in first place through 44 jumpers. The contenders, including defending champion Jason Lamy Chappuis, all clustered behind him.
Then came the second-to-last jumped, Japan’s Akito Watabe, who flew past everyone. Literally. He flew 100.5 meters. And then the favorite, Germany’s Eric Frenzel, went 2.5 meters better — a magnificent 103 meters. That gave Frenzel a six-second lead over Watabe and a 30-second lead on the other contenders heading into the race.
The balmy weather, comfortably over 50 degrees (or 10 degrees, for those who prefer Celsius) softened the snow on the race course.
Frenzel let Watabe join him in a two-man lead group. But they weren’t able to put much time on the chase group. Norway’s magnificently named Magnus Moan, who started 48 seconds back, caught up with the contenders and led the chasers — 17 of them, including the major players, to within 20 seconds at the halfway mark.
By 6.5k, the chase group was within 13 seconds, but it was much smaller. Defending champion Jason Lamy Chappuis had fallen off the pace.
But Frenzel and Watabe turned up the pace. Through 9k, the gap was still 12.5 seconds. And still eight or nine skiers were aiming for at least bronze.
Frenzel waited patiently to make his move until the two leaders reached the stadium. Then he blew away from Watabe, leaving time to celebrate as he crossed the finish line. Watabe was still comfortably in silver, 4.2 seconds back. Norway’s Magnus Krog, who started more than a minute back, sprinted to bronze (8.1 seconds back) ahead of Italian contender Alessandro Pittin, who hung his head in that most painful of spots — fourth place, 1.2 seconds behind Krog. Moan was fifth, and the rest of the field trickled in from there.