Samppa Lajunen entered his first cross-country race when he was only two years old. By the time he was five, he was skiing 300 miles a year. He added ski jumping to his pursuits when he was 9 years old. In 1997, Lajunen, still only 17 years old, won the overall World Cup title in Nordic combined.
First Olympic champion in the sprint
The following year he earned silver medals at the Olympic Games in Nagano in both the individual and team events. A third Nordic combined event, the sprint, was added for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and Lajunen took full advantage of the expanded programme. In the individual event, Lajunen trailed teammate Jaako Tallus after the ski jump and gave up 53 seconds at the start of the 15km race. However he came from behind and won by 24.7 seconds. In the team event, Lajunen recorded the two best jumps of the competition and then anchored the Finnish team to victory. He earned a third gold medal in the sprint.