ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Norway scraped the narrowest of wins in a dramatic finish to the Olympic Nordic combined men’s team event on Thursday, holding off Germany to grab the gold by 0.3 seconds.
Coming into the stadium at the end of the 4 x 5 km cross-country relay race, Norway’s Joergen Graabak was just ahead of Fabian Riessle.
Graabak had been in the same position during Tuesday’s individual large hill event and pulled away to win easily. When he tried the same move on Thursday, Riessle stuck with him and Graabak barely found the strength to hold on.
“I’ve had a lot of good sprints this year and I knew if I was the first one into the stadium I was pretty confident that I’d be the first one over the finish line,” Graabak told reporters.
“I saw behind me that Riessle was throwing his foot forward, but I was confident that I was first.”
Defending champions Austria were third, 3.4 seconds behind the Norwegians.
The win capped an excellent Olympics for the Norwegian Nordic combined squad, who had already won gold and silver in the individual large hill and a bronze on the normal hill.
Given the Norwegians’ excellence on the race course the German performance was admirable, especially because world number one Eric Frenzel was still suffering the after-effects of a virus.
“We knew this was the team to beat and we came here looking for a good fight,” said Graabak.
Riessle said Graabak was a strong competitor.
“It was a really hard race,” he added. “We started slow at the beginning. Joergen is a great athlete. He did well.”
The Germans had landed four solid leaps in the ski jumping section to earn a lead of seven seconds over Austria, and 25 ahead of the Norwegians, at the start of the relay.
Austria and Norway both quickly caught up, however, and the three leaders were together for virtually the entire race.
Austria’s Mario Stecher, 36, became the oldest man to win an Olympic Nordic Combined medal. He won the team gold in 2006 and 2010 as well as a team bronze in 2002.
“It was difficult to ski because the snow was slushy ... It’s my fourth medal and it is the end of my career,” he told reporters. Stecher and Germany’s Bjoern Kircheisen both became the only two men to win four Olympic Nordic Combined medals.
The U.S. team, which won silver in 2010, jumped badly and ended in sixth place, almost two and a half minutes behind the winners.
Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in Rosa Khutor; Editing by Ed Osmond