- Nordic Combined
Nordic combined athletes believe their sport is toughest
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, - Consider for a second the plight of the Nordic combined athlete, who must simultaneously excel at both ski jumping and cross country.
If you stay light in a bid to soar far, your lungs will be bursting on the race track as hardier rivals pull away.
Bulk up too much to deal with the tiring snow and you'll flop like a penguin after clearing the end of the jump.
"It's the hardest ... You must be good in your head and good in your body. You need a lot of power," said Eric Frenzel after winning gold in the individual normal hill event.
"For me, the Nordic combined athletes are the kings of Nordic winter sport," he told reporters.
The world's top contenders admit they struggle continuously to balance the very different requirements of the sport.
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"It's difficult but that's a part of the game and that's what is so interesting about the sport, to find your key ... the total package is fascinating," said Norway's Magnus Moan, who won silver in Tuesday's large hill individual event. He also has a silver and a bronze from the 2006 Games.
Gone are the days, say athletes, when excellence in one discipline could overcome weakness in the other. Now a top contender has to excel in both.
"It's really difficult to find the good balance because if you train too much on the aerobic side for the cross country skiing, you lose your power on the jumping," said France's Jason Lamy Chappuis, who won the normal hill gold in 2010.
"And if you're too heavy, if you have too much upper body power, then you can also lose a lot of metres on the jumping hill ... you work on your weak points and try not to lose your good points," he told Reuters.
A typical day for Lamy Chappuis might involve a lot of power squats to help him explode off the hill and then a two-hour cross country session which he says leaves him tired ahead of the next day's jumping practice.
Lamy Chappuis and Frenzel are the modern face of Nordic combined, relatively slim men who have worked hard to build up their endurance.
Certainly, few of the athletes stripped to the waist after one hot training session seemed to be carrying much bulk.
"On the cross country track I think also it's important to have good endurance. Our muscle training is only important for the jumping," Frenzel told reporters.
Bill Demong of the United States, who won gold in the 2010 Olympic large hill competition, says he has learned not to be light all the time. During training he is 10 pounds heavier than he is at events.
He also says he has to plan his training months ahead of time so he can be in the best shape.
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"I'm carrying the fitness that I've earned doing hundreds of hours of training and heavy, heavy weightlifting. There is a residual effect and I think people underestimate how long it takes for things to sink in," he told reporters.
"It's not like you eat a hamburger and gain a pound. It takes days for anything, whether it's sleep or training, to start taking effect ... The training I do in November is coming through now so there are a lot of big picture things you need to pay attention to."
Asked whether Nordic combined is the hardest sport of all, he deftly evades the question, noting that other events are more dangerous.
Athletes say ski jumping is not a particularly arduous sport. Cross country is quite a different matter.
Tests show cross-country skiers have recorded some of the highest ever scores for oxygen consumption during competition.
"Not too many people are doing this sport because it's so hard to train," said Austria's Mario Stecher, who won gold in the team event in 2006 and 2010.
"There's a lot of endurance training, a lot of jumping training and you have to find the balance. And if you're a little bit older you can do this a little bit more easily," he told Reuters.
Alessandro Pittin of Italy, who won bronze in the individual large hill event in 2010, is an accomplished cross-country skier and fits the old-style pattern of an athlete who is much better at one discipline than the other.
"It's quite difficult, you have two different disciplines ... also, on competition days we start in the mornings and finish in the late afternoon so it's really hard for us," he told Reuters.
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