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A comfortable winner in the event at Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, Norway’s Sverre Stenersen remained a force to be reckoned with in the years that followed, winning the 1959 Holmenkollen Festival, among other titles.
Five years Stenersen’s junior, the reigning Norwegian champion Thornold Knutsen was regarded as another of the favourites for gold in Squaw Valley, while Germany’s four-man team featured an excellent jumper in the 22-year-old Georg Thoma, the country’s reigning ski jumping champion, though his lack of experience was expected to count against him in the 15km cross-country skiing.
The Nordic combined got under way on 21 February 1960 on Squaw Valley’s K-60 hill. Competitors were required to complete three jumps, with only the best two counting towards their points totals.
Putting in the longest jumps, Thoma led the competition at the halfway stage with a points total of 221.54, just ahead of the Soviet Union’s Dmitry Kochkin and Japan’s Yosuke Eto. However, none of the leading three were expected to maintain their challenge against the cross-country specialists, particularly with Knutsen lying an ominous fourth.
Thoma appeared to have ignored that particular script. The German defied the experts by turning in a solid time of 59:23.8, the fourth fastest of the day and almost seven seconds quicker than Knutsen. Racking up a points tally of 457.95, 4.95 clear of the Norwegian’s total, Thoma became the first German to win Olympic Nordic combined gold, and in so doing he brought an end to Scandinavian domination of the discipline.
Only tenth after the first round, the USSR’s Nikolay Gusakov (the husband of the women’s 10km cross-country skiing champion Mariya Gusakova) outskied everyone to climb up to third place overall, while the 1956 champion Stenersen could only finish seventh.
Named German Athlete of the Year in 1960, Thoma was his country’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony at Innsbruck 1964, where he reappeared on the Nordic combined podium, this time winning bronze. Shortly after being crowned world champion in Oslo in 1966, he retired from the sport and became a TV commentator.
In the 1990s, his nephew Dieter Thoma went on to become one of the world’s leading ski jumping and ski flying specialists, winning the Olympic team title with Germany and individual large hill bronze at Lillehammer 1994.