KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Nordic combined athletes at the Sochi Olympics — the last male-only bastion of the Winter Games now that women jumpers have joined the men on the ski hill — hold their first gold medal event on Wednesday, the individual Gundersen normal hill.
The normal hill has been dominated by Europeans at past Winter Games, with those athletes winning all 19 gold medals on the smaller of the two hills. And Nordic combined athletes from Norway, the birthplace of the sport in the late 1800s, have nine of those.
Jason Lamy Chappuis, the defending champion from Vancouver who is among the favorites in Sochi, can become the first Frenchman to win two Olympic golds — Fabrice Guy is the only previous Nordic combined athlete to win gold while representing France at Albertville in 1992.
Here are five things to know about Wednesday afternoon's normal hill final at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center which includes a 10-kilometer cross-country race — four loops of the 2.5-kilometer course:
FRENZY FOR FRENZEL: Eric Frenzel of Germany is favored for gold in both the normal and large hills. He won the World Cup last year and has a 352-point lead in the 2013-14 World Cup standings after winning seven of 11 events he has entered, including four in a row coming into the Games.
SLUSHY COURSE: The good news: for the first time at any Olympics, the cross-country course is adjacent to the ski jump hill, meaning athletes and competitors don't have to travel — in the past they moved to wherever the Games' cross-country and biathlon events were held. The bad news is that the cross-country course at RusSki is at a lower altitude than usual, so it is more susceptible to mild temperatures, which has made the course slushy and slow.
THE AMERICAN CONTINGENT: Taylor Fletcher is joined by his older brother Bryan, 2010 large hill gold medalist Billy Demong and 37-year-old Todd Lodwick, competing his sixth Olympics. Lodwick and Demong were members of the U.S. team that won silver in the team event on the large hill in Vancouver. Johnny Spillane of the U.S., who won three silver medals at Vancouver, has retired.
FIRST OF THREE: Demong will defend his large hill title on Feb. 18. The Americans are hoping to go one better than their silver from Vancouver and win gold in the team event on Feb. 20, the last medal event at RusSki. Austria won gold in the team event four years ago.
HOW GOLD IS DETERMINED: Nordic combined events use the Gundersen method, developed by Gunder Gundersen of Norway in the 1980s. The cross-country portion of the race is a pursuit in which the athlete who won the ski jumping phase begins first, followed by the remaining athletes in order of their finish in ski jumping. Every point that a competitor finishes behind the leader in ski jumping equals a four-second handicap on the start line in cross-country race. The format of the two individual events is one jump, followed by the 10-kilometer ski race.
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