Norway’s quartet of Magnus Moan, Haavard Klemetsen, Magnus Krog and Jörgen Graabak finished in 47min 13.5sec while Germany (Eric Frenzel, Björn Kircheisen, Johannes Rydzek, Fabian Riessle) took silver, just 0.3 seconds behind. Vancouver 2010 champions Austria (Lukas Klaper, Christoph Bieler, Mario Stecher and Bernhard Gruber) then cruised home for an unchallenged bronze.
Despite their general prowess in the cross-country events, the triumph was Norway’s first in the Nordic combined relay since Nagano 1998. It also capped a glorious Games for Graabak who had won the large hill individual competition two days earlier.
The initial ski jumping phase of the two-sport discipline saw Norway, Germany and holders Austria emerge from the field, and the three teams then engaged in a fascinating tussle for the podium spots in the decisive 4x5km cross country ski race.
It was the Germans, and particularly Kircheisen and Rydzek who impressed most during the ski jumping, each managing to produce leaps of over 130m, to put their team in pole position going into the second part of the competition.
Meanwhile, the Austrians, who had established a firm grip on the title in this event since Turin 2006, were not far behind, thanks in large measure to a massive jump of 133m from Bieler.
In accordance with the Gundersen scoring system applied in Nordic combined, the Austrians went into the ski relay with a seven second advantage over the Austrians, and 25 seconds on the third-placed Norwegians.
At this stage the French, 10 seconds further back, were still in touching distance, but the rest of the field was already over a minute off the pace and out of the frame
Graabak at the last
With each member of the relay teams tasked with completing a 5km ski leg, the three front-runners were locked together after the first kilometre. It made for a gripping denouement.
Going into the final leg, Norway’s anchor Graabak, who had already claimed gold in the individual large hill Nordic combined event, had to strain every sinew to build on the fine work of his three team-mates to edge the Norwegians in the lead.
Somehow he managed to overhaul Germany’s Riessle, who had been preferred for the last leg to star man Frenzel, who won gold on the individual small hill, but was still feeling the effects of a virus. In a final push for the line, Graabak edged it by just three tenths of a second, with Austria coming in a just over three seconds later.
“I came here as a substitute, and now I have two gold medals. It’s extraordinary,” said an incredulous Graabak.
“Winning the large hill event on Tuesday was fantastic, but this is even better, as I’m on top of the podium with my friends and team-mates,” he added.