Three Nordic combined powers raced together for the bulk of a 20-kilometer relay, with Norway’s Joergen Graabak continuing his breakout Games by holding out for gold. The USA wasn’t able to mount a challenge, rallying to finish sixth.
Sport: Nordic combined
Event: Team (four jumps determine start intervals for 4x5k cross-country relay)
Medalists: Norway, Germany, Austria
SportsMyriad projections: Germany, Norway, France
How U.S. fared: The USA took silver in this event in 2010, with its Golden Generation at its peak, and followed up with a third-place run at last year’s World Championships. But the team was not great on the large hill. Todd Lodwick was seventh in his group with 99.9 points. Taylor Fletcher also was seventh, continuing his struggles on the hill with 92.5. Bill Demong had a nice one at 108.0, also seventh in his group but keeping pace with the strong jumpers in his group. Bryan Fletcher got 97.2, ninth in the last group.
The team is full of solid cross-country skiers, but those jumps would give them a gap of 1 minute, 52 seconds behind the leaders.
Bryan Fletcher led off the cross-country relay and pulled the USA ahead of Russia into seventh place, but he lost five seconds to the leaders. Todd Lodwick, who sat out the cross-country phase of the individual races to rest his injured shoulder, lost nearly a minute and fell back to eighth.
The bright spot was Taylor Fletcher, who posted the fastest third leg of any of the competitors. He pulled back ahead of Italy into seventh.
Bill Demong, the only U.S. man to win Nordic combined gold, went hard in the final leg despite the great distance. He moved up into sixth and held off the Czech Republic.
What happened: Austria moved into the lead with the best jumps of the second and third rounds — Christoph Bieler and Mario Stecher. But a weaker fourth jump left them behind consistent Germany.
Norway had been back in the pack, but Haavard Klemetsen finished with the best jump of the day.
After the jumps, the time intervals were set: Germany first, Austria seven seconds back, Norway 0:25, France 0:35.
The fleet-footed Magnus Moan brought Norway back into the mix immediately, ailing normal hill champion Eric Frenzel held on for Germany, and the top three hit the first exchange within a second of each other.
That lead pack stayed within a second of each other through the second leg as well, and they put more distance on fourth-place France.
In the third leg, the leaders were still cozy with each other, at one point all standing up and looking like they were out for a nice stroll in the warm weather. They put the hammer down in the last kilometer, with Norway’s Magnus Krog trying to put some distance on the others. But the gap from first to third only grew to 1.7 seconds. France, though, was more than a minute back, far too much for Jason Lamy Chappuis to pull back.
The three contenders in the last leg — Joergen Graabak (Norway) was the large hill winner, Fabian Riessle (Germany) was the large hill bronze medalist, Mario Stecher (Austria) is a six-time Olympian. Through another four kilometers, no one attacked. Could Stecher keep up with the young guys on a final sprint?
Stecher started to make a move on the uphill but couldn’t get away, and the others left him on one of the last turns. Graabak was out front through the stadium, with Riessle on his tail. The German anchor picked the finish lane next to the Norwegian and flung himself at the line, but he was 0.3 seconds behind.