With half a kilometer to go, it was anyone’s race. The lead pack of four was so close, their skis could almost touch.
Then Germany’s Eric Frenzel showed why he’s the defending Olympic gold medalist.
As the others in the pack grew tired, arms burning and legs aching from 10 kilometers of sprinting, Frenzel grew stronger, easily capturing the gold by 4.8 seconds over Japan’s Akito Watabe.
It wasn’t even close, as Frenzel finished in 24 minutes, 51.4 seconds. A replay of Sochi, Watabe (24:56.2) again finished second to Frenzel.
Austria’s Josef-Franz Rehrl, a huge underdog, made waves as he took the top spot in the ski jumping portion of the race.
But it was a different Austrian who stood on the podium, as Norway’s Lukas Klapfer took the bronze, finishing at 25:09.05.
Rehrl who held a 15-second lead to begin the event, faded fast, barely holding off Riiber after the first 2.5-km lap.
The lead pack of Frenzel, Klapfer, Riiber and Watabe separated itself from the pack around the 5.0 km mark – halfway through the race -and soon, there was no chance of catching them.
The Austrian duo of Rehrl and Klapfer shocked the competition, finishing the ski jumping portion of the individual normal hill/10km in first and fourth place, respectively.
Rehrl landed a 112.0-meter beauty for 130.6 points, while Klapfer lagged behind at 122.6.
The 33-year old Klapfer held tight in the 2-spot for most of the event before being overtaken by Riiber, who finished second with 126.9 points, and Watabe in third at 123.7 points.
Before Wednesday’s event, Germany had dominated the ski jumping events with Andreas Wellinger winning the normal hill competition and Katharina Althaus winning the silver in the women’s normal hill event.
The Nordic combined is comprised of two portions: ski jumping and later in the day, cross-country.
Thanks to a Norwegian named Gunder Gundersen – yes, really – scoring is very simple. The Gundersen method converts a ski jumper’s total points to seconds. That time then determines an athlete’s starting time behind the leader for the cross-country portion. Whoever jumps the farthest starts first, while the other athletes are delayed based on their own times.
Four U.S. athletes competed in the event: Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher, Ben Loomis and Jasper Good. Bryan led the U.S., placing 17th at 27:03.6. Taylor finished 35th, Loomis came in at 41st and Good finished 45th in the 47-man field.