Frenzel and Lamy Chappuis take battle to biggest stage
The battle for supremacy between Eric Frenzel and Jason Lamy Chappuis that has dominated Nordic combined for the last four years will finally play out on the sport's biggest stage at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The two stars have played each other to a virtual draw since the start of the 2010/11 season, with each man earning 14 individual World Cup victories during that time and sweeping the four individual events at the last two world championships. At the 2011 Oslo World Championships, Lamy Chappuis won the Individual Gundersen event on the large hill while Frenzel took the normal hill win, and at the 2013 Val di Fiemme World Championships the roles were reversed.
But entering Sochi 2014, Frenzelhas clearly surged ahead of his rival. The German ended Lamy Chappuis' three-year stranglehold on the World Cup overall title last season and holds a virtually unassailable 352-point lead in this season's standings.The 25-year-old's dominance this season is underscored by his seven individual World Cup wins in 11 starts, including his victory in the first Nordic Combined TRIPLE event in Seefeld in mid January.
In three consecutive days of competition at the Austrian resort, Frenzel showed his class on both the ski jumping hill and the cross-country track to win all three events and leave no doubt about his favouritism to win the only major title he lacks - an Olympic gold medal - in Sochi. Olympic gold is something Lamy Chappuis already has after winning the Individual Gundersen event from the normal hill at Vancouver 2010 to begin his three-year reign at the top of the sport.
The Frenchman starred again at the 2013 world championships with a haul of three gold medals and one bronze medal, but he has been unable to keep up with his younger rival this season. Lamy Chappuis, 27, won two World Cup events in December and is the only Nordic Combined athlete other than Frenzel with multiple individual wins this season. However, the Frenchman has slipped to fourth in the World Cup standings and missed the podium in his last five individual World Cup starts. Despite his patchy form this season, however, Lamy Chappuis is a big-stage performer who has won one of the two individual events at each of the last three major championships.
While the focus in the lead-up to Sochi 2014 has been on the sport's two biggest stars, there are plenty of others waiting in the wings hoping to spring an upset in the individual events. Vancouver large hill gold medallist Bill Demong is back to defend his title, though the success Demong and his USA teammates enjoyed at Vancouver 2010 has not continued over the past four years. The consistent Akito Watabe, who has made five individual world cup podiums in 2013/14 and is second behind Frenzel in this season's world cup standings, is well placed to win Japan's first individual Olympic Nordic Combined medal since 1994.
Among the European challengers, Norway have a quartet of potential podium finishers in the individual events in Magnus Moan, Magnus Krog, Haavard Klemetsen and Mikko Kokslien. This enviable depth will also see Norway start as one of the favourites for the Team event on 20 February that wraps up the Sochi 2014 Nordic Combined programme. Two-time defending champion Austria will not relinquish its team crown easily, however, with three of its five-man squad having tasted Olympic team glory before, including two-time team gold medallist Mario Stecher But as with the individual events, the final word in the team competition may belong to the two men who currently tower over Nordic combined. Frenzel's Germany won the last team world cup event before Sochi 2014 on home snow in Oberstdorf in late January and, like their leader, enter the Games in top form. The Lamy Chappuis-inspired French team came second in Oberstdorf and, having claimed both team gold medals at the 2013 world championships, will be a major threat once again.
Nordic Combined at Sochi 2014 begins with the Individual Gundersen event from the normal hill on 12 February.
Nick Leonard / Olympic News Service