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Germany sweep the board in Nordic combined

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Germany’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony, Eric Frenzel set the tone for his country’s Nordic combined athletes as he won gold in the individual normal hill/10km. That was followed by a memorable clean sweep in the individual large hill/10km, as Johannes Rydzek, Fabian Riessle and Frenzel took gold, silver and bronze respectively. The three men then joined up with Vinzenz Geiger to produce a confident win in the team large hill/4x5km.

Defending champion Frenzel was in no mood to let anyone take his title from him in the individual normal hill/10km, which opened the Nordic combined programme at PyeongChang 2018 on14 February. The German shook off Japan’s Akito Watabe on the final climb on the last lap of the cross-country section to consign Watabe to a second consecutive silver in the event. Austria’s Lukas Klapfer took the bronze. 

Frenzel lay fifth at the halfway stage, with Austria’s Frantz-Josef Rehrl leading the way with a jump of 112m on the HS109 at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre. Lying in second place, Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber began the cross-country race with 15 seconds to make up on Rehrl, while World Cup leader Watabe started out third, with a 28-second gap to close, eight less than Frenzel.

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Rehrl and Riiber stayed out front early on, but it was not long before the pre-race favourites closed in on them, with Frenzel and Watabe then breaking away. Though the German had gone without a podium finish on the World Cup circuit prior to PyeongChang 2018, having won a fifth consecutive large crystal globe in 2016/17, he attacked at just the right time to leave his Japanese rival trailing and coast to the line for an ultimately comfortable win.

“It’s amazing. I feel really great,” said the two-time Olympic champion. “It was quite a hard race. My goal on the last round was to push really hard in the last few metres and on the last uphill section. The only way to go was to get in front and to make my own race.”

Full house for Germany

There was more joy for the Germans when Rydzek led home Riessle and Frenzel in the individual large hill/10km six days later, a competition Watabe had led after the ski jumping section. His advantage at the start of the cross-country race was a solitary second from Norway’s Riiber. Austria’s Wilhelm Denifl began a further 15 seconds back in third, with Frenzel, Rydzek and Riessle respectively lying 31, 34 and 44 seconds behind the leader.

Watabe and Riiber led all the way to the start of the final kilometre, at which point they were caught by the German trio, who attacked as a group on the last climb. In the sprint for the line, it was reigning world champion Rydzek – a team bronze and silver medallist at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 respectively – who sped to the line first, followed by Sochi 2014 individual bronze and team silver medallist Riessle, and then Frenzel. The three Germans finished within a second of each other, with Riiber coming in fourth, less than three seconds behind and just ahead of Watabe.

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Germany’s clean sweep was the first by any nation in the individual large hill/10km, though Norway have recorded four in the individual normal hill/10km: in 1924, 1928, 1932 and 1936.

“We worked really hard on the first lap to close the gap on the leader, and by the time we finally caught up we had a little bit of energy left over because we’d been helping each other,” said Rydzek afterwards. “We were better placed for the sprint and when we crossed the line we got together to celebrate. It’s a great day for us and for all the German athletes.”

German gold rush continues

Two days later, Riessle, Frenzel and Rydzek joined forces with Geiger to produce another German show of strength in the team large hill/4x5km event, cruising to gold ahead of defending champions Norway (Jan Schmid, Espen Andersen, Riiber and Joergen Graabak) and Austria (Denifl, Klapfer, Bernhard Gruber and Mario Seidl), who won bronze, just as they had at Sochi 2014.

It was the Austrians who led after the ski jumping leg, taking a six-second lead over Germany into the cross-country skiing relay. Japan lay 19 seconds behind the leaders, just ahead of the Norwegians.

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Germany’s lead-out man Geiger closed the gap on Denifl in the first three kilometres, and when Riessle took over from him Germany’s advantage over the rest of the field went out to over 40 seconds. Keeping the pace up, newly crowned Olympic champions Frenzel and Rydzek increased the advantage to over 52 seconds by the end of the race, providing yet another stunning display of their prowess and giving Germany a first gold in the event since its introduction on the Olympic programme at Calgary 1988. 

Behind them it was Norway’s Graabak – a double gold medallist at Sochi 2014 – who prevailed in a three-way battle for silver with Seidl of Austria and Watabe of Japan. The Austrians consoled themselves with a bronze that maintained their record of having finished on every Olympic Nordic combined team podium since Salt Lake City 2002.

“It wasn’t so easy because we had problems on the jumping hill at the start of the season, but everybody here in PyeongChang did a really good job and it was really good teamwork today,” said Frenzel after picking up a joint-record third Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined and a sixth Olympic medal in the discipline in all. “It was an incredible day for all of us, especially after Sochi, when we just missed out by a narrow margin.”

“I was able to enjoy the cross-country part because my team-mates did an amazing job,” added Rydzek after collecting his second title of PyeongChang 2018 and fourth Olympic medal in all. “It’s so much fun to win together.”

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