Stenersen sets new Nordic combined yardstick
The Nordic combined competition at the 1956 Winter Games was contested under a new format which would become the standard athletes are familiar with today. Until then, combined contenders had merged with cross-country specialists in the 18km, which doubled as the first of the two parts of the Nordic combined, the ski jump being the second. In Cortina, the 18km was removed from the programme to be replaced by a 15km that would no longer be an integral part of the Nordic combined. Participants in the Nordic combined would henceforth complete their jumps first, and then compete in a separate 15km race.
On the Italia ski hill, on 29 January, 36 skiers were given three jumps each, the top two of which would be counted. Yuri Moshkin, representing the Soviet Union, took pole position with jumps of 79.50m and 77.00m, which earned him 217.50 points. Sverre Stenersen (NOR), a bronze medallist at Oslo 1952 and the 1954 world champion, slotted into second with 215 points (jumps of 73.0m and 74.0m). Bengt Eriksson (SWE) was third with 214 points, Austria’s Sepp Schiffner was fourth (211.50 points) and Franciszek Gąsienica Groń (POL), who would make a surprise appearance on the podium, was back in 10th (203 points).
Two days later, in a 15km held in fog and in temperatures of approximately -8°, Stenersen, who was primarily regarded as a jumping specialist, produced the race of his life. Following his second place in the ski jump portion, new rules stipulated that he must depart in second-last position on the order, but that did not affect his performance. His finishing time of 56.18 was by far the best, helping him to accumulate 455 points and capture the gold medal.
Moshkin, the winner of the jumping section, was the last racer to set off, but he failed to live up to expectations and finished 13th. As for the remaining podium places, Eriksson’s time of 1:00.43 was good enough for 437 points and a silver medal, while Groń managed an excellent 57.55, which brought his points total up to 436.80 points and propelled him up the standings from 10th place to third. Not only was that Poland’s first medal at the Olympic Winter Games, it remains the only Polish success in the Nordic combined to date. In another first for the event, Paavo Korhonen (FIN) finished fourth to ensure that competitors from four different nations filled the first four places.
Crowned Norwegian national champion five times between 1954 and 1958 and winner of the Holmenkollen Ski Festival three times (in 1955, 1956 and 1959), Stenersen also took part in the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, where he finished 7th in the Nordic combined. He later opened a sports shop, became a coach and took up a governmental position – focusing on culture and sport – in his native Målselv in northern Norway, where he passed away on 17 December 2005, aged 79.