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Lajunen completes golden clean sweep

Finland’s Samppa Lajunen won his first Nordic Combined World Cup race in 1997, when he was just 17 years old. But subsequently he developed a curious habit of finishing second.

He took silver in the 1998 World Championships, and then in the Winter Games the same year repeated that feat in both the team and individual competitions.

The following year he came second at the 1999 World Championships, and then added more silver medals on the same stage in 2001. The 22-year-old clearly had huge amounts of natural talent but, people were already questioning whether Lajunen could break his unfortunate habit of falling just short at the biggest occasions.

At least he had an outlet for his tension. When not training and competing, Lajunen was the guitarist in a rock band called Vieraileva Tahti, which also featured another Nordic combined competitor and three ski jumpers!

If it was designed to focus his mind, it worked. Lajunen's first event in Salt Lake City was the individual competition. Having trailed team-mate Jaakko Tallus after the jump, he had to make up a gap of 53 seconds in the chase for gold. After catching Tallus by the end of the second lap, he went on to win by more than 24 seconds to clinch his first Olympic gold.

Next came the team competition, which the Finnish team now approached with great confidence after seeing their athletes take gold and silver in the individual. Sure enough Lajunen led them to first place after the jump, and the Finns calmly retained their advantage to take victory.

His golden streak continued in the sprint, a new addition to the Olympic programme. A leap of 126.5m on the large hill put Lajunen into the lead again and gave him a 15-second head start on Germany's Ronny Ackermann in the ensuing 7.5km race.

The German managed to cut that advantage down to nine seconds, but Lajunen held him off quite comfortably to complete his clean sweep of the Nordic combined gold medals. He then retired from the sport in order to go to university.

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