ETERNAL PITY

Nordic Combined has never enjoyed the respect given to other winter sports, even though it played a pioneer in their history. Personal notes.

With Jason Lamy Chappuis, Rovaniemi 2011


It must have been in March 2011 when a group of men met in a conference room at the Rica Park Hotel at Holmenkollen in Oslo. The people responsible for the Nordic Combination from the International Ski Federation (FIS) were there, led by Race Director Ulrich Wehling, as were important representatives from various countries. Their task was to review the recently ended season, but more importantly, look into the future. The direction in which the sport should be taken was the question of the day.

At that time, I was responsible for communications for the event, and everyone told me I had been doing a very good job. So, I was also sitting in this meeting and was more and more disappointed with every statement made. We answered the above-mentioned question so banally. We should take a look at the points system to boost the importance of the jumping. We should also try to find new competition formats. We should search for more event locations.


Then, it was my turn.


“I would like to see the Nordic Combination as the leading winter sport in 10 years and I think that Formula 1 organisers should be happy that we are not in direct competition with them. In 10 years from now, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. should be specially reserved for Nordic Combined.”


“But there is Kitzbuehel,” said someone.

“Then, they have to find an alternative date or hour,” I said drily.

Silence in the room. “I like this suggestion,” said someone.

Then, it was the turn of the next speaker.

*

Maybe I should make it clear that I’m no fanatic, or – perhaps – just a bit of a fanatic. My credo is to set high goals and try to get as close to them as possible. People who are happy with the status quo and simply believe that tinkering with something is enough are either at a very high level already or stay stuck where they are.

The Nordic Combination hasn’t developed any further. In fact, it’s gone backwards.


The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee has not just recently rejected the inclusion of the Women’s Combination in 2026, but also questioned the very existence of the discipline at future Games. The press release stated: The Executive Board also discussed the status and challenges of Nordic Combined with regard to international representation, particularly outside Europe, at the last three editions of the Olympic Winter Games. This is demonstrated by the fact that, at the last three editions, the 27 medals available in Nordic Combined were won by athletes from only four NOCs. In addition, Nordic Combined had by far the lowest audience numbers during those Games.


However, the problem with the Nordic Combination isn’t the International Olympic Committee. It’s not the technical challenges in training as the athletes are able to cope with them. It’s also not the very committed national associations that are fighting for this sport. The Nordic Combination’s problem is first and foremostly the International Ski Federation (FIS), for which only Alpine Ski sports really count – nothing else. Not even Ski Jumping, which is successful in both sporting and commercial terms (which simply fell into FIS’s lap). The present constellation means there is no real support for the Combination and there are no real expectations, either.


When the management doesn’t encourage and push, the only things that will get done will be those that are just or absolutely necessary. Maybe Walter Hofer, the former Ski Jumping Race Director and interim Combination Manager at FIS, was right. About 20 years ago, he brought up the idea of organising Nordic Combined as a team event only and using the best ski jumpers and cross-country skiers from each country. (Then, the Women’s event would have easily got into to 2026 programme.)


It was, of course, a provocation. More realistically – and, if it had been followed, equally as expedient – were Hofer’s suggestions to make the results comparable in the same format and also, and more importantly, to develop the "classic" Nordic Combined athlete -- for example, the likes of former athlete Magnus Moan, as role models for other sports generations to orient themselves towards.


There should be gala events in F1 style at Combination competitions with men in white shirts and women in smart black dresses, with one-on-one interviews with the protagonists and the media, collateral social events that don’t start with bratwurst sausages and end with Salmiakki Koskenkorva liqueur, as well as marketing and activating measures and so on. There are best practice examples from dozens of other sports and no one really needs to re-invent the wheel.


It’s been 11 or 12 years since that strategy meeting in Norway. Nordic Combined, or rather those who have been responsible for it since that time, have messed up badly.


Eternal pity.


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