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Athletes embrace new Nordic Combined event

Winter Games 20 January 2023

Team Japan 1 captured gold on Thursday in the Mixed Team Nordic event, a competition connecting Nordic combined, ski jumping and cross country skiing and making its FISU World University Games debut at Lake Placid 2023.

“This new event format was very exciting. We hope it will remain in the program at future FISU Games,” said Rin Sobue, who teamed up with Sakutaro Kobayashi and Machiko Kubota for the win.

Completing the podium after an incredible fight on the cross country course was Poland 1 in second place ahead of USA 1, which came in third after a great catch-up effort.

In this new event format, each team consists of one athlete out of each discipline – with at least one of them being a female.

For the jumping part in the morning, it was each team’s specialist and Nordic combined athlete going off the hill at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex.

Showing the strongest performances were Kubota, two-times FISU Games silver medallist in ski jumping, and Kobayashi, who claimed two gold medals and one silver at previous Nordic combined events this week.

“I knew that the other nations would be really strong in the cross country part, so I really focused on the ski jumping today. I tried to get as big of a lead as possible for the cross country portion of the race,” Kobayashi said.

His team took the lead with a 21-second gap ahead of Team Japan II and a 33-second advantage on Team Poland I. Team USA 1 was in fifth place after the jumping round.

With heavy snowfall setting in right at the start time of the cross country race consisting of two 2.5km laps at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, skiers had to deal with sugary snow conditions on the race course, causing some athletes to stumble out of the start gates.

Spectators witnessed some thrilling race action right from the beginning. Team Japan II’s first athlete, the specialized cross country skier Ryo Hirose, quickly closed the gap to Kobayashi, the two of them fighting shoulder-to-shoulder before tagging to their female teammates.

Sobue soon pulled away from her compatriot, Ayane Miyzaki, who couldn’t keep up with the pace of her opponents and was soon caught by Poland 1’s strong cross country skier Weronika Kaleta, who started off in third place and secured the silver medal.

“I didn’t expect I could get second, I thought it might be third place,” Kaleta said in a post-race interview. “I worked so hard for this medal. I really had bad luck in the individual races, so I’m just happy it finally worked out today – it feels amazing.”

Also showing an incredible team effort was Team USA 1, which moved up all the way from fifth place to bronze. It was the specialised cross country skier Erin Bianco who passed Poland’s and Japan’s second teams on the final leg.

“I did believe we had a shot at the podium today,” Bianco said. “I had some insider info that the other team weren’t too far ahead so I just did everything I could to try and catch them.”

The new format of competition received a lot of positive feedback from the athletes.

“It was super fun. Connecting all the sports means you get to meet so many new people – it’s really cool,” Bianco said. “I would definitely like it if they’d keep it at future editions of the Games.”

Written by Annika Saunus, FISU Young Reporter