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It was all about teamwork on Friday at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, as athletes who usually compete in individual events came together to contest the first ever Nordic combined mixed team NH/3x3.3km.
Ski jumpers, Nordic combined athletes and cross-country skiers from 11 nations joined forces to take part in this inaugural event.
With a balanced performance between ski jumping and cross-country, it was Russia who triumphed, winning the gold medal ahead of hosts Norway in second place, and bronze medallists Germany. After more than 26 minutes of hard-fought action, fourth-placed Slovenia missed out on the podium by just 0.1 seconds.
Ladies’ ski jumping silver medallist Sofia Tikhonova, together with teammates Vitalii Ivanov (Nordic combined), Maksim Sergeev (ski jumping), Igor Fedotov (cross-country) and Maya Yakunina (cross-country), formed Russia’s winning team.
“I’m happy with my jump today,” said a delighted Tikhonova. “This team competition is very important and I’m glad that I was able to do my part well.”
Sofia Tikhonova soars over the Lysgardsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena. Photo: YIS / IOC Jon Buckle
The event put five athletes in a team, mixing genders as well as sports: one female ski jumper, one male ski jumper, one Nordic combined athlete, one female cross-country skier and one male cross-country skier.
After one round of ski jumping competition on the normal hill, the Nordic combined athlete and the two cross-country skiing specialists had to ski in a relay format completing one lap of 3.3km each.
Tikhonova, Ivanov and Sergeev came fourth in the ski jumping section, before Yakunina – gold medallist in the ladies’ 5km free – moved the team up to second place in the cross-country skiing race. Ivanov overhauled the Slovenians to take first place, allowing Fedotov to cross the finish line first in 26 minutes 16.9 seconds.
“Everything was wonderful and I was very happy when I crossed the line,” said Fedotov. “Maya did a great job putting us in [a position to challenge for] the first position and the ski jumpers also did well.
“I tried really hard in the beginning on the first big hill. Then I saw there was a big gap, so I realised it was gold and I could relax a bit.”
His teammate Ivanov added: “I did all I could, I really, really wanted to do my best, and I did. Everything was perfect today. I will be really happy to bring this medal home. I want to thank my teammates for their performance. The team is very important to me, because we all put in our own effort. We are very happy to be one team and to represent Russia here.”
Despite sitting in sixth position after the ski jumping competition, Norway’s Anna Odine Stroem, Einar Luraas Oftebro, Martine Engebretsen, Marius Lindvik and Vebjoern Hegdal grabbed the silver medal thanks to a powerful performance in the cross-country that Hegdal finished in 26:38.0.
“I’m very happy, it’s awesome,” ski jumper Lindvik said. “Vebjoern did a very good lap. I knew he was good, but I didn’t know he was so good.”
Hegdal drove his team from fourth to second place on the final cross-country lap, and Lindvik added: “I think the team pushed him [Hegdal], because when your teammates support you, that gives you some extra strength.”
Hegdal, who was the silver medallist in the men’s 10km free and won bronze in the men’s sprint classic, was delighted to finish the race for the team. “I saw the other guys were really tired in the long hill and I saw a really big opportunity there,” he said. “I was a little bit tired yesterday, so I didn’t know how this was going to turn out, but it turned out well. It’s amazing, it’s really cool to take silver as a team.”
Agnes Reisch, Tim Kopp, Jonathan Siegel, Anna-Maria Dietze and Philipp Unger took the bronze medal for Germany.
“I really wanted to get a team medal,” said Kopp, who had previously won gold in the men’s individual NH/5km and silver in the mixed team ski jumping. “We are a really good team, everybody is friends with each other, so we have a lot of fun.”
Cross-country specialist Unger, who brought Germany to the finish line only 0.4 seconds behind Norway, and crucially 0.1 ahead of Slovenia, said he was excited by the event and the result. “It was great, it was very, very exciting. I’m so happy, we had the perfect team and we all worked together. This medal is my first big medal, it’s beautiful.”
Written by YIS / IOC Emma Lupano
Emma Lupano is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Milan-based Emma has worked at the last five Olympic Games and also covered the Innsbruck 2012 and Nanjing 2014 YOGs. A China specialist, she has worked as a freelance journalist from Beijing for four years.