Wehling takes a huge leap into the history books
Ulrich Wehling raced and leapt his way into the history books at Lake Placid by becoming the only competitor ever to win three consecutive gold medals in the Nordic Combined competition.
At the 1980 Games the event consisted of a 70m ski jump competition, followed by a 15km cross-country race across Mount van Hoevenberg.
Wehling, born in Halle, East Germany, took up skiing as a child. He quickly discovered jumping was his forte and went on to win regional and national competitions.
As a teenager he switched to the Nordic Combined event, but soon realised the cross-country element was his weak spot. Rather than solely working on his racing skills, he merely intensified his ski jump training, and with spectacular results. His international career began in 1971 when he won the European Junior title.
At the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo he travelled to Japan with the East German squad to gain experience. Instead the newcomer, then just 19, won his first gold in the event. After coming fourth in the jump, with 200.9 points, his third place in the 15km gave him a tally of 413.340 and he recorded a shock gold win. He was the youngest Nordic Combined champion in Olympic history.
Ahead of the 1976 Games Wehling won gold in the competition at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, along with a victory in 1975 at the prestigious Holmenkollen Ski Festival – the first of three consecutive wins.
His ski jumping was to win him his third Olympic gold medal at Innsbruck in 1976. As he became ever more unbeatable on the jump, coming first with 225.5 points, his 13th place finish in the cross-country race mattered less – and he defended his gold medal from Japan. After recording a bronze medal at the FIS World Championships in 1978, he travelled to Lake Placid as the favourite for a gold medal.
In the States, Wehling, now 27 and a gym instructor, once again built up a commanding lead during the ski -jump phase. Once again he finished first thanks to his two best jumps from three attempts, of 85m and 81m.
He finished in ninth place in the 15km race and survived a storming finish by Jouko Karjalainen of Finland to win the gold medal with a total 432.200 points. Karjalainen took silver with 429.500 points and Wehling’s team-mate Konrad Winkler won bronze with 425.320 points.
It was a momentous day in Olympic history at Lake Placid, as Ingemar Stenmark became first Swede to win the men’s giant slalom and American speed skater Eric Heiden picked up his third of five gold medals.
After collecting his third gold medal, Wehling retired. He is only one of three men ever to win three consecutive gold medals in the same event at the Winter Games, along with Swedish figure skater Gillis Grafström and West German Luger Georg Hackl. Wehling later became Nordic Combined race director at FIS, a position he held until 2013.