As a little girl, growing up in a family of cross-country skiers, Tara Geraghty-Moats always dreamed of becoming a “combiner”.
A junior skier with a unique aptitude for both cross-country and ski jumping, the natural step would have been for Geraghty-Moats to specialise in Nordic combined. The only problem? The event didn’t exist.
As Geraghty-Moats explains, while men’s Nordic combined has been part of the Olympic programme since 1924, the women’s competition was not an internationally recognised discipline until 2016.
“I’ve always wanted to do Nordic combined since I was a little girl, and I didn’t have the opportunity growing up, so at 16 I had to choose between cross-country and ski jumping,” said the 26-year-old from New Hampshire, USA. “It was really hard and I went back and forth between the two sports until a year and a half ago, when I could finally become an international Nordic combiner.”
Despite its late start, women’s Nordic combined has flourished since 2016. Geraghty-Moats estimates that it has grown by about 40 per cent over the past two northern-hemisphere winters, as countries begin to pour resources into the fledgling discipline, identifying a possible fresh source of medals.
One of the reasons for the investment is the inclusion of women’s Nordic combined on the programme of the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020. With women’s and men’s individual events and two mixed team competitions on the schedule, the discipline’s addition symbolises the International Olympic Committee’s pledge to ensure gender equality at the Games.
And as Lausanne 2020 Athlete Role Model Geraghty-Moats explains, the upcoming YOG will be a watershed moment in terms of gender equality on the Olympic stage.
“It’s really historic; it’s the first Olympic event, youth or senior, that is going to be gender-equal on the winter side,” she said.
“Any time that happens, it’s monumental. I’m in a pretty unique position because women’s Nordic combined is such a developing sport that there are some very young athletes on the Continental Cup circuit. I’ve actually been competing with some of the girls in Lausanne, so it’ll be really special to see them make history, and to support and guide them through.”
Right now, Geraghty-Moats is the discipline’s star name after an outstanding 2018/2019 season, in which she won the women’s Nordic combined Continental Cup after taking 10 of the 11 titles on offer.
“It’s something I just feel like I’m genetically predisposed to be good at, in terms of my body type,” she said. “The sport is actually a pretty crazy combination when you think about it – Nordic skiing and ski jumping. It’s sort of comparable to biathlon in that it combines two completely different sports for a more exciting, diverse sport in one.
“For the skiing you need endurance, and you use slower-twitch muscles a lot more, and for ski jumping you want explosive, fast-twitch muscles. To combine the two, you have to really focus on quality over quantity for the cross-country, so you can stay quick and explosive for the ski jumping.”
Having also dabbled in biathlon, as well as competing on the World Cup circuit as a ski jumper, Geraghty-Moats is uniquely well-rounded in the world of women’s Nordic combined, which gives her a crucial edge on many of her rivals. And she believes that the discipline’s growing platform will enable many of the stars of the future to be equally versatile.
“Hopefully the legacy I can leave for the next generation is that a young girl who wants to be a combiner at the age of eight can now just train as a combined skier and have the Olympics as a dream in the future,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to make happen, that’s the end goal.”
It isn’t only women’s Nordic combined making its debut at Lausanne 2020. Women’s doubles luge – in which teams consist of pairs of sliders making separate runs down the track, with the fastest combined time winning – is also a new addition to the programme, after the introduction of the men’s doubles event at Innsbruck 2012. Ice hockey’s fast and thrilling mixed-NOC 3x3 format will also be on show at the Games, with teams competing in women’s and men’s competitions.
Those involved will be hoping Lausanne 2020 is the launchpad from which their event earns new-found public attention and eventually a spot on the Olympic Winter Games stage.
“Lausanne 2020 is one of the appropriate steps that the sport is ready for,” Geraghty-Moats said. “The Winter Olympics are a very, very special event and not something that a sport can just be added to. The reason we hold the Olympics in such high regard is that the level of excellence is unmatched, so you can’t just add a sport that’s undeveloped.
“That being said, I think women’s Nordic combined is well on its way to hopefully being included.”