Athlete of the Olympics: Jørgen Graabak (NOR)
To write an "Athlete of the Week" after a World Cup weekend is often difficult enough with two competitions and many individual stories of success. To do the same after two weeks of the Winter Olympics in Sochi with three absolutely thrilling but quite different competitions is even harder, especially without neglecting the stunning achievements of quite a big group of athletes who have worked towards this moment for four long years.
So by picking double gold medallist Jørgen Graabak as the Athlete of the Olympics, this is not meant to detract from Nordic Combined superstar Eric Frenzel's extraordinary dealing with a lot of pressure as the clear favourite on the way to the first gold medal, Akito Watabe's smart race planning and knowing his strength leading to a long overdue silver medal, Magnus Moan's return to an Olympic podium after eight years or the Olympic rookies Fabian Riessle and Magnus Krog going home with an individual bronze medal each (plus some team silver and gold). But what 22-year-old Jørgen Graabak achieved in Sochi (in also his first Olympic experience ever) was nothing short of spectacular.
Not even having set foot on the top of the podium in a World or Continental Cup so far, Graabak picked the Olympics of all competitions for this first dominant display of strength. Known to insiders as a big talent, Graabak had rather been keeping a relatively low profile within the group of strong Norwegian athletes. Hailing from Trondheim and even the same ski club as legend Magnus Moan, the Olympics in Sochi have been the first time that the young athlete, who lists Moan as a role model, has been able to step out of Moan's big shadow and entered his name in the list of Nordic Combined's big names.
Graabak achieved this in a quite direct manner by taking the gold medal without so much of a moment of hesitation in the individual race when he powered to the lead past German veteran Björn Kircheisen on the last uphill. Moan, helped out by a German - German crash in one of the last corners, had to be content with silver but used his years of experience wisely for a touching moment of camaraderie. In true team spirit and quite typical for the Nordic Combined family, Moan helped an utterly overwhelmed Graabak who couldn't believe what was happening back on his feet, through the Mixed Zone into the press conference before which the rookie - understandably - had to take a couple of moments to just process his historical achievements before heading back out to face the waiting journalists in his usual quiet but eloquent manner.
What this moment of Olympic triumph can do to an athlete's confidence was visible in the final team event where the resident of Melhus lead the Norwegian squad to another gold medal, unafraid of taking the lead in large parts of his leg and staying strong even when Germany's Fabian Rießle tried everything in a finish line sprint to dethrone the Norwegians. Fans, interviews and press, no problem afterwards this time, definitely. Instead of another sensory overload, Graabak happily slid down from the hill size point of the large hill together with his teammates to celebrate.
True to the statement "you live and you learn", the Olympics in Sochi have transformed Graabak into a new kind of athlete, somebody fans and media will now definitely watch out for in every competition. And with only 22, he has all the time in the world to add to his victory collection in the upcoming years. So what we've seen from him in Sochi was not a surprising result or a "one-hit-wonder" but might have been a new Nordic Combined superstar rising. And we couldn't be more excited to see what he will do next.