From left, Norway's Haavard Klemetsen, Magnus Krog, Magnus Hovdal Moan and Joergen Graabak, celebrate winning the gold during the cross-country portion of the Nordic combined Gundersen large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, today in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — After failing to win a medal at the Vancouver Olympics, the country that spawned Nordic combined more than 125 years ago made quite a comeback in Sochi.
Norway won its second gold medal in three days after taking Thursday’s large hill team event. That gave the Scandinavian country its fourth medal of the games in three events.
Norwegians Joergen Graabak and Magnus Moan finished one-two in the large hill Tuesday while teammate Magnus Krog took the bronze in the normal hill.
“Tuesday was a great day for me, but this is better — standing on top with these friends and teammates,” Graabak said inside the stadium at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center after the venue’s final event of these games.
“We had a bit of a rough patch in Vancouver ... to be able to take the gold and also three individual medals at these championships is unreal.”
On Thursday, cross-country ski specialist Moan made up a 25-second deficit on the first leg and Norway outdueled Germany and defending champion Austria in the relay in which each team member skied 5 kilometers.
Final-leg skier Graabak outsprinted German rival Fabian Riessle in the last 100 meters to give Norway the victory by three-tenths of a second. Two-time defending champion Austria took the bronze, 3.4 seconds behind.
Norway, where soldiers first competed informally in ski jumping and cross-country skiing in the late 1800s, finished the relay in 47 minutes, 13.5 seconds.
“I’ve had a lot of good sprints this year, and I knew that if I was the first one into the stadium, I was pretty confident that I would be the first one over the finish line,” Graabak said.
Germany took an early lead when all four of its competitors, including normal hill gold medalist Eric Frenzel, jumped 125 meters or better — the only team to do so.
Frenzel, who nearly missed the large hill final because of a virus and finished 10th, was the lead skier for Germany with a seven-second advantage over Lukas Klapfer of Austria. Norway started 25 seconds behind and France 35 seconds.
“I felt really much better than the last competition,” said Frenzel, the World Cup leader. “My body felt today really good. For me it was a perfect Olympic Games: two medals — one gold, one silver.”
Klapfer, Frenzel and Moan finished the first leg within a second of each other, and that’s the way it stayed for the remainder of the race as France sat a distance fourth, some 30 seconds behind.
“My goal was to catch the 25-second gap,” Moan said. “I was really hoping to show the guys I can do well in cross-country.”
Austria was trying to become the first country to win three consecutive gold medals in the team event.
“There were just a few seconds to gold medal, and we made it a good competition,” said Mario Stecher, who skied the final leg for Austria.
France finished fourth, followed by Japan and the United States in sixth, moving up two placings from its start after the ski jumping.
The Americans, who won a silver medal in this event at Vancouver in 2010, started 1:52 behind Germany in the relay after its ski jumping.
Todd Lodwick, the 37-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colo., is competing in his sixth Olympics. He plans to retire after Sochi.
“A lot of mixed emotions, that was my last ski jump,” said Lodwick, who carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony. “To be at the top (of the ski jump), I just took in the moment.”
He’s not sure what he’ll be doing down the road. His immediate plans, though, are clearer.
“I’ve got two kids at home that I’m really excited to see and a girlfriend I love more than anything in the world,” he said. “I just want to be home.”
After winning four Nordic combined medals at Vancouver, including Billy Demong’s gold in the large hill, the Americans will return home without one from Sochi. Norway’s gain of four mirrored the Americans’ loss.
“It was tough,” Demong said. “We had some realistic individual expectations. But to be able to come back today and personally have a better day, and have the guys have a good morale throughout the whole thing, is a positive note to end on.”
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