By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Journalist
Nordic Combined, which uniquely tests skiers on breathtaking jumps and thrilling runs, has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. Its time may be over.
It is the only Olympic sport without women and the International Olympic Committee is due to make a decision later this month on whether to allow women to compete in Nordic combined at the 2026 Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo Games.
It is, however, possible that Nordic combined will be removed from the Olympics entirely, according to athletes and advocates.
“What I’ve heard loud and clear in the side channels is that the solution to dealing with the dirty secret of gender equity is to remove men from the program for 2026,” said Billy Demong , five-time Nordic combined Olympian and USA Nordic board member: “To take one of the original sports out of the first Winter Olympics would be tragic, myopic and wrong.”
The IOC has said final decisions on the 2026 Olympic medal program are expected to be made at a June 24 meeting of its executive board, chaired by President Thomas Bach.
“We are seeing sports such as ski mountaineering being added and I hear the IOC does not want to increase the number of athletes and the solution is to remove the men from the Nordic combined,” Demong said in an interview on Tuesday. at the Associated Press.
Men’s Nordic Combined have publicly lobbied on social media and elsewhere for women to be included, adding a mixed team format as another Olympic event, and are now preparing for their future as athletes on the world stage. .
Jasper Good, who competed for the United States earlier this year at the Beijing Olympics, said he was “blindsided” by the possibility.
“We have information coming to us from athlete groups around the world and from national governing bodies, and most of us did not know the sport was in danger,” he said.
International Ski Federation Nordic Combined race director Lasse Ottesen said he had not heard officially from the IOC about any men potentially being eliminated from the Olympic programme.
“We’re hearing speculation from different sides,” Ottesen said Wednesday. “If the IOC, for whatever reason, made the decision not to include women for the 26 events, what would happen with the men? Would that be some kind of signal that you are for the events of 26, but for 30 we think about gender equality and then men are excluded.
Nordic combined skiers need to show finesse and fearlessness for ski jumping while training for the strength and stamina for a 10 kilometer cross-country course. The athlete who wins the ski jumping stage begins the cross-country ski race at the head of the peloton, followed by the rest of the competition in their order of finish, then they race to the line for gold .
While Nordic Combined is a fringe sport in the United States, it is very popular in parts of Europe and Japan.
“It’s really huge in countries like Norway, Germany and Austria,” said US Olympic Nordic combined skier Jared Shumate. “These three countries usually dominate the World Cup podiums and the Olympic podiums. And obviously, we don’t have quite the same notoriety.
Annika Malacinski is one of dozens of women around the world who have sacrificed a lot of time and money to aim for Olympic gold. Malacinski, 21, who has dual Finnish-American citizenship and competes for the United States, had high hopes of competing in China dashed in 2018.
The IOC Executive Board then considered refused an application that would have allowed her and other women to compete in Nordic combined at the Beijing Games. IOC Sporting Director Kit McConnell said development in terms of universality, competitiveness and tracking was needed.
In the 2022 season, nearly 40 women competed at the sport’s highest level in a successful follow-up to the inaugural Women’s World Cup season a year ago.
“There’s no reason we can’t be at the Olympics,” said Norwegian Ida Marie Hagen, who finished second in the World Cup standings. “The level is rising. There are also many athletes from different continents.
The IOC is proud to highlight improvements in gender equality, saying the Beijing Games set new benchmarks for female competitors by increasing participation to 45% from 41% in 2018. The Paris 2024 Games are expected to be the first Olympic Games with so many women. than men in competition.
Alas, the Instagram post of the Olympics to highlight this led to another round of responses calling for the inclusion of women in Nordic combined.
“It makes things so much more intense, especially when the decision is only a week away,” Malacinski told the AP.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed.
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