By Dan Di Sciullo, Olympic Staff Writer
(Sports Network) - Although the United States had never won a medal in Nordic combined prior to the Vancouver Olympics, the Americans head into the competition at the 2014 Sochi Games with lofty expectations.
The U.S. surprised everybody four years ago by winning four medals -- one gold and three silvers -- in an event normally dominated by Norway, Finland and Austria.
Exclusively a men's competition, the nordic combined pairs ski jumping with cross-country skiing. Three events make up nordic combined at the Olympics: individual normal hill, individual large hill and a team competition.
Back to lead the U.S. team is Bill Demong, who became the first American to earn nordic combined gold when he won the large hill event in Vancouver. The U.S. also claimed silver in that event, as Johnny Spillane finished second behind his countryman.
Spillane also won silver in the normal hill, and both he and Demong were members of the American team that picked up silver in the team competition. Demong will represent the U.S. in Sochi, but Spillane announced his retirement from the sport last year.
Todd Lodwick also was a part of the team competition in Vancouver and he has been picked to go to Sochi despite injuring his shoulder in a crash at a world cup event on Jan. 10. The 37-year-old Lodwick won the U.S. Olympic trials in December and if he is set to become the first American to compete in six Winter Olympics next month.
Brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher will give the U.S. nordic combined team an influx of youth in Sochi. Bryan, 27, missed out on the Vancouver Games due to an injury, while Taylor, 23, competed in both ski jumping and nordic combined at the 2010 Olympics. Taylor finished 11th in the ski jumping team event and 45th in the nordic combined large hill competition.
Germany's Eric Frenzel led the World Cup standings in 2013 and expects to be one of the top competitors in Sochi along with Jason Lamy-Chappuis of France and Japan's Akito Watabe, who placed second and third, respectively, on last year's list. Lamy-Chappuis was born in the U.S. before moving with his family to France as a child.
Bernhard Gruber of Austria won bronze in the large hill four years ago in Vancouver and also helped his country take gold in the team competition. He was ranked fourth in the 2013 standings, while compatriots Wilhelm Denifl and Christoph Bieler also have a solid shot at medalling in Sochi.
Norway expects to be in contention with Magnus Moan and Mikko Kokslien leading the way. Moan won a silver and bronze medal at the 2006 Turin Games.
Points are scored for distance and style in the ski jumping section and the skier with the most jumping points starts first in the cross-country portion. The rest of the competitors are staggered according to the difference in their jumping scores and the first cross-country skier to cross the finish line wins the event.
The team event consists of four-member teams, with each skier taking one jump on the large hill. Points for all jumps count towards the team total, and just like in the individual events, the scoring system is used to determine who gets a head start in the cross-country race, which is a 4�5 kilometer relay. The winner is the team whose final skier crosses the finish line first.
Each nordic combined discipline takes place over the course of one day, with the jumping portion taking place before the cross-country race.
The competition in Sochi will take place at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center and it will get underway with the normal hill on Feb. 12 followed by the large hill event on Feb. 18. The team event is scheduled for Feb. 20.
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