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Doing the Gunderson!
February 12, 2014 - Chris Knight
Vermontville native Billy Demong will compete today in his first nordic combined race of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the individual Gunderson normal hill 10-kilometer event.
For those who don't know, nordic combined is ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It's probably the most obscure of winter sports to Americans but has a huge following around the world.
As if nordic combined wasn't obscure enough, the scoring system that will determine today's Olympic champion is just as confusing. Part of it involves what's known as the Gunderson method. No, that's not the latest European dance craze or an equation you can use to convert water into wine, although it does involve its share of math.
Math was never my strong suit, but I'll do my best to try and explain how the Gunderson method works.
Before I get there, however, here's how today's competition will play out. The ski jumping portion come first. Each athlete will take two jumps, one trial and one scored jump. The starting order of the athletes in the scored jump is based on the reverse order of the current FIS World Cup standings, which means the competitor ranked the highest will start last. Competitors who don't have any World Cup points are drawn in groups, and start before the athletes with points.
There are 46 competitors in today's event. The start list shows Demong will jump 27th. His teammates are Todd Lodwick, set to jump 10th, Taylor Fletcher, who will jump 23rd and his brother Bryan Fletcher, who will be 36th.
Each jumper is given an overall score, which is based on several factors including distance points, style points, gate compensation points and wind compensation points. Sit back and relax, because each takes a bit of an explanation.
Distance points are given based on the location of what's known as the K-point on the jump. A jump to the K-point earns 60 points. For every meter an athlete jumps past the K-point, they get 2 additional points (1.5 on the large hill). For every meter short of the K-point, they lose two points.
Style points are given by five judges. A perfect jump would be given a 20. The judges can deduct points for faults during flight, on the landing or in the out-run. The highest and lowest judges' scores are then tossed.
Gate compensation points are determined based on which gate on the in-run (the long ramp leading down to the actual jump) the athlete starts. Points are either added or subtracted for jumps lower or higher than the base gate.
This Olympics is the first where wind compensation points are added to a jumper's score. For example, if the wind is more favorable when an athlete jumps, they could actually lose points. If the wind is not in a jumper's favor, wind compensation points are added.
Still with me? All these points are added up to determine an athlete's score in the jumping portion of the competition.
Now, we bring in the Gunderson method, which was developed by Norwegian athlete Gunder Gunderson and first used in the 1980s.
Based on the rules of this method, the winner of the nordic combined ski jumping competition starts the cross-country portion of the event first. The rest follow according to their converted time difference from the jumping competition. In the 10-kilometer race, every point a competitor finished behind the leader in the jumping equals 4 seconds they'll have to wait to start skiing. From there, it's a race to the finish.
Why is the Gunderson method used? Well, originally nordic combined races were decided by who earned the most points during the competition. That wasn't terribly exciting. After it was implemented, the Gunderson method revolutionized the sport, turning the cross-country portion of the event into a pursuit race to the finish line.
If all this explanation is still taking some time to sink in, don't worry. You've got two more events to figure it out by. This is the first of three nordic combined races in the Sochi Olympics. The men's individual large hill 10-kilometer is set for Tuesday. The team event is Feb. 20.
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