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's amazing," Frenzel told reporters. "I feel really great. It was quite a hard race because the wind on the track (for the cross-country) was not so easy and on the last round my goal was to push really hard the last round, the last metres and the last uphill.
"So at the end the only way was to go in front and make my own race. At the end I'm really, really happy about this victory today."
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.
"Gold medal," Watabe said of his goals. "I was trying to get the gold today, but Frenzel was a bit stronger than me today. I did my best and today it's a great fight."
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 -- who finished fourth in the ski jumping bit -- took the bronze, finishing at 25:09.05.
"It's perfect," Klafper said. "I'm 32 years old and (it is) the first individual medal so it's a great day and now I know the hard work was worth it.
"It's the biggest thing in my life for now, for sure. The Olympic medal was always a dream from childhood on, so it's the biggest day for sure in my career."
Rehrl who held a 15-second lead to begin the event, faded fast in the cross-country portion, barely holding off Riiber after the first 2.5-km lap. Overall, Rehrl finished 13th.
The lead pack of Frenzel, Klapfer, Norway's Jarl Marnus 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 32-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.
Frenzel placed fifth in the jumping portion, with a score of 121.7, putting him 36 seconds behind Rehrl to start the 10km.
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.
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