Combining the intricate, detailed technique of ski jumping with the lung-busting, gladiatorial nature of cross-country skiing might seem like a challenge too far for many, but in three-time Olympic champion Eric Frenzel’s eyes it is exactly this dichotomy which makes Nordic combined the “king” of the winter sports.
When asked what the key is to mastering the contrasting demands of Nordic combined, Eric Frenzel, the discipline’s dominant male athlete of the past decade, gives a simple yet surprising answer.
“It is good balance,” the German said. “You need good balance between endurance and strength and being lightweight, which you need for jumping. And then you need a balanced [training] strategy and a good understanding of your body. It’s not so easy but I learned really early what I had to do to feel my body.
“It is one of the most important things to know how your body is feeling and what it needs before a big event. Sometimes you need a bigger break to rejuvenate [yourself] or you feel you need more power for the cross-country. It’s not easy.”
It is a fascinating revelation from a man who followed up his normal hill triumph at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 by winning the overall normal hill World Cup title in each full season leading up to PyeongChang 2018, where he won his second successive individual gold medal.
Unlike many of his peers, Frenzel started not as a ski jumper or a cross-country skier but as a fully-formed Nordic combined kid. It was not only a case of love at first sight aged about five, but also a seemingly innate understanding of what each discipline required.
“I liked the jumping part because it was a lot of fun and with the adrenaline you have a bit more of a kick, and then with the cross-country part you could give all of yourself, put out your power and fight with the other athletes,” he explained. “For me, I got everything I needed and I liked from the sport. At no time was it boring, and there was nothing you could do that was not good for the sport. I liked that too.
“This for me is what makes Nordic combined the king discipline of winter sports.”
As he progressed quickly through the ranks, winning the sprint event at the International Ski Federation Junior World Ski Championships in 2007, Frenzel found something else he loved about his discipline. Something he feels is unique to Nordic combined.
“When you are only a ski jumper you have just two jumps, and when you are not in good shape on that hill it is not a good day. And it’s the same [when you] just [compete in] cross-country. But in Nordic combined you always have a second chance,” he said.
“When you jump, and have a good jump, you have the opportunity to be very tactical and have a lot of strategy [in the cross-country], but when you have a not-so-good jump you still have the chance to make it better, to give all that you have, and hope you still get a good place at the end. You have a second opportunity to turn a not-so-good day into a better one.”
The 31-year-old has had an extraordinary number of good days on the snow. As well as his two individual gold medals, he was also part of the winning team relay in PyeongChang and, to date, is the proud owner of seven World Championship crowns and 53 World Cup titles.
Despite starting his career as a better jumper than cross-country skier, Frenzel has never been able, and would never be able, to choose his favourite discipline. It is that question of balance once again.
“When I have had enough of jumping I go ‘OK, today I am not going to jump, I am going to do some running or roller skiing or skiing’,” he said happily. “I can take a break and think about other things. It’s good for me.
“On one day you like one more, and [on] another [day] it’s the other one. I love them both.”
One skill the German, as a keen youngster, had not anticipated having to master was logistics. But now he is one of Nordic combined’s most decorated athletes of all time, he knows it is a necessity for success.
“Whether I am doing a two-day trip or a two-week trip, it’s the same baggage,” Frenzel laughed as he reflected on the different skis, boots and clothes he needs for each discipline. “I learned really young what you need for competition. It’s all about having a routine.”
The double defending individual Olympic champion may not have made the World Cup podium so far this season, but for Frenzel it has always been about performing on the very biggest stage. And that is his final explanation as to why he has been so successful for so long.
“I do aim to peak for the Olympic Games,” he said. “For me they are the most important thing in sport. When I was young the dream was to be an Olympic champion, like every athlete I think.
“[At] the last Olympic Games, [it was] such a great feeling to know that it wasn’t only in Sochi but that I could do it again. It was a really big honour to carry the flag for the German team [at PyeongChang 2018’s Opening Ceremony]. It was such a good feeling to have all the athletes behind me. It was something I also dreamed of as a kid.
“And after that, it was really special I could go and win the gold medal as well.”