Nordic combined large hill takes place on Tuesday, but the normal hill gold medalist Eric Frenzel may be unable to compete.
Nordic combined is equal parts ski jumping and cross-country skiing, though fortunately not at the same time. Norway understandably dominates the event based on historical results (27 medals since 1924), but the Americans burst onto the scene in Vancouver four years ago and will be seeking to repeat that success.
The Nordic combined gold medalist on the normal hill may not be able to compete in Tuesday's individual large hill event, which could create a vacuum on the medal stand. Here's everything you need to get ready for the action, including when and how to watch, plus who is likeliest to be on the medal stand.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 18, ski jumping at 4:30 a.m., cross-country skiing at 7 a.m. (all times ET)
Where: Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (approximately 40 miles from Sochi)
Watch: NBCSN, ski jumping 5:30-7 a.m., cross-country 10 a.m.-12 p.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.
Americans Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick each reached the medal stand at the 2010 Games as among the first U.S. skiers ever to medal in Nordic combined. Demong won gold in the individual large hill, and he also took silver alongside Lodwick in the team large hill event.
Johnny Spillane, who won the USA's first-ever Nordic combined medal by taking silver in the 10-kilometer normal-hill event in Vancouver, has since retired.
As noted by Ken Belson of the New York Times:
After years of futility, Americans won a stunning four out of a possible nine medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games, their first Olympic medals in the sport. The success was particularly surprising because the United States has won few Olympic medals in cross-country skiing and ski jumping. But the Americans invested in Nordic combined in the 1990s ahead of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, and it paid dividends in Vancouver.
Breaking the medal drought in the event is one thing; repeating the feat is an entirely different task. Time is not on the side of either Demong, who is 33 years old, or Lodwick, who has set a record at 37 years old by competing in Nordic combined for a sixth Olympics.
The brightest young U.S. stars in the event are brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, 27 and 23 years old respectively. Bryan is the stronger jumper, with Taylor's forte in the cross-country portion.
However, the Nordic combined individual normal hill already took place on Wednesday, with disappointing results for the Americans. Demong placed 24th, Bryan Fletcher finished 26th and brother Taylor was 33rd.
Germany's Eric Frenzel claimed gold, followed by Japanese skier Akito Watabe and Magnus Krog from Norway.
There could be an opening at the top on the large hill as Frenzel is battling a sickness. According to The Associated Press' Dennis Passa, spokesman for the German team Florian Schwarz relayed the gold medalist's condition on Monday: "Eric is ill. He has a fever. He is not training today and the team doctor will make a decision tomorrow at 8 a.m. whether Eric starts in the individual or waits for the team event," which begins on Thursday.
Germany coach Hermann Weinbuch confirmed that Frenzel is unlikely to be healthy enough to go in the combined individual large hill event: "I think there is little chance he will compete. It's very hard to race here, so he must be strong. You are only a chance when you have all your power."
Since the ill Frenzel will not have all his power whether or not he competes, Watabe becomes a strong bet on the large hill to duplicating his normal-hill prowess. Watabe had a strong showing in the practice jumps on Monday, as did Demong.
Norway's Haavard Klemetsen had a very strong practice after finishing ninth on the normal hill, but his countryman Magnus Moan is a better bet to medal after finishing fifth in normal hill.
Presuming Frenzel is unable to go due to illness, look for Watabe to claim gold, followed by Moan and Demong.
This will likely be the last rodeo for Demong and Lodwick, but the future looks bright for the United States in Nordic combined thanks to the young Fletcher brothers, despite their underwhelming showing on the normal hill.
They will look to improve their 2014 Olympic results with a strong effort on the large hill, but they may very well have to wait until 2018 for a medal.