KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — After dominating Nordic combined for the past two years, Eric Frenzel wasn’t about to have a letdown on his sport’s biggest stage.
The 25-year-old German led after ski jumping, worked with eventual silver medal winner Akito Wanabe on the 10-kilometer cross-country phase and then left the Japanese skier in a haze of snow to win the individual normal hill gold at the Sochi Olympics on Wednesday.
Frenzel won the World Cup last season, is a runaway leader this season after seven wins, and had a bronze medal with the German team from Vancouver in 2010.
Add an Olympic gold to that list of accomplishments, with the likelihood they’ll be a few more before he’s done.
Frenzel said he had read last week that his sport is ranked the most difficult discipline at the Olympics, and he agrees.
“You have to be healthy in mind and body,” he said. “I think Nordic combined athletes are the kings of winter sport.”
If so, Frenzel is the head of the royal family.
“I can’t describe this feeling, it’s so perfect,” said Frenzel. “I felt big pressure here but I managed it well.”
Watabe said he had nothing left at the end to chase Frenzel — “no chance this time, I was really tired.”
Frenzel and Watabe took an early lead of about 20 seconds on the rest of the pack, and then traded places a few times before Frenzel skied away in the final kilometer to win by 4.2 seconds. His time was 23 minutes, 50.2 seconds.
Magnus Krog, who took the bronze, credited his podium finish with his red, white and blue-striped hairdo — representing the colors of the Norwegian flag.
“I’ve seen a couple of Norwegians doing it before me at the past Olympics. So I thought … maybe it’s smart to do some crazy things to your hair and maybe it brings luck,” he said. “Obviously it works.”
Jason Lamy Chappuis of France, the defending gold medalist on the normal hill at Vancouver, finished 35th, 2 minutes, 37 seconds behind Frenzel.
“Right from the start my legs were not working well, the glide was not good,” he said. “It has been a nightmare. I was passed by guys that I normally beat by a minute.”
Using the Gundersen method, the skiers went off in staggered starts based on their performance in the ski jumping portion, all of them chasing Frenzel. Watabe started six seconds behind and 18 athletes had less than a minute handicap.
Billy Demong of Park City, Utah, the defending gold medalist on the large hill, was the leading American, finishing 24th overall. He finished 31st in ski jumping, started 1:33 after Frenzel and was 1:49.6 behind at the end.
Bryan Fletcher of Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished 26th, 1:55.5 behind Frenzel. Fletcher’s brother Taylor was last in the jumping portion, started 2:34 behind and finished 33rd, 2:32.7 behind.
Todd Lodwick, also from Steamboat Springs, finished 34th in the jumping and said later he would not compete in the cross-country portion. Lodwick, 37, who is attending his sixth Winter Games, has an injured shoulder and wants to save himself for the Feb. 20 team competition, where the U.S. won silver in Vancouver in 2010.
Two hours before the cross-country race, Frenzel, jumping last, soared 103 meters and scored 131.5 points to overcome the 100.5 meters and 130.0 points posted by Watabe immediately before him.
That ensured the German was first off in the cross-country event on the 2.5-kilometer loop course adjacent to the ski jump.
The next Nordic combined gold medal — the individual large hill — will be contested on Feb. 18. The men’s team event on the large hill two days later will be the final Olympic competition at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center.