Host City: Grenoble, France
Venue(s): , Autrans; , Autrans
Date Started: February 10, 1968
Date Finished: February 12, 1968
Format: Normal hill ski jumping and 15 kilometres skiing; placements determined by points table.
None of the first six from the 1964 Winter Olympics Nordic Combined event was present in 1968. The 1964 gold medalist Tormod Knutsen had left competitive sport after his Olympic triumph, and 1960 champion Georg Thoma had ended his impressive career by winning gold at the 1966 World Championships in Oslo. The favorites for the 1968 Olympic title were the silver medalist from the 1966 World Championships, Thoma’s 23-year old teammate Franz Keller and the bronze medalist from the same championships, Switzerland’s Alois Kälin. The two rivals had different specialities. Keller was an average cross-country skier, but an excellent ski jumper, while Kälin was an excellent skier, placing 20th in the 1964 Olympic 50 km, where he was also 12th in the Nordic Combination, and he was a regular member of the Swiss 4x10 km relay team. Kälin was one of the few athletes competing in both cross-country and Nordic Combined at an international level.
In the first part of the Nordic Combined event, ski jumping, Keller showed excellent form and won with the longest jump of the day, 77.5 metres, achieved in the second round. His victory could have been clearer if he had not fallen on his third jump, which measured 77 m. An unknown Japanese, Hiroshi Itagaki, placed second and Erwin Fiedor, 14th in the 1964 games, was third. Fiedor was known as a rather mediocre cross-country skier, and Itagaki’s cross-country abilities were unknown. Kälin placed 24th out of 41 competitors and had to beat Keller by almost 3½ minutes in the 15 km cross-country phase, leaving Keller as the undisputed favorite for the gold medal.
In the skiing Kälin had the advantage of starting as number 40, Keller wearing start number 33. The starting time difference between the two was 3:30, almost exactly the time Kälin had to beat Keller to beat him in total points. It turned out to be a most dramatic duel. After 5 km, Kälin had gained 1:03 on his rival, but at the 10 km point he had gained 2:40, and Keller was only 50 seconds ahead of Kälin on the track. Could the Swiss take back 50 more seconds on the last 5 km? He fought gallantly, but in vain, passing the finishing line exactly 6.3 seconds behind Keller! East Germany’s Andreas Kunz secured the bronze medal, advancing from 10th position after the ski jumping after having the third fastest time in the cross-country. Fourth was the Czechoslovakian teenager Tomáš Kučera, and with an Italian in 5th and a Pole in sixth place it was obvious that the Nordic Combined was no longer a Nordic affair. The best Norwegian placed 21st, while the best of the Finns ended in 30th place.
East Germany’s Ralph Pöhland had placed 4th in the 1966 World Championships and was expected to be one of the heavy favorites. After winning a pre-Olympic competition in Le Brassus, Switzerland in mid-January 1968, he defected to West Germany with the help of Georg Thoma. He was denied a start for West Germany in the Olympics by a decision of the FIS council, after strong political pressure from East Germany and the Soviet Union. A few days after the Olympics he won the West German championships, with Olympic Champion Keller in second place, and at the 1972 Games represented West Germany, placing 10th.
|1||Franz Keller||23||West Germany||FRG||Gold||449.04|
|3||Andreas Kunz||21||East Germany||GDR||Bronze||444.10|
|7||Robert Makara||19||Soviet Union||URS||426.92|
|8||Vyacheslav Dryagin||27||Soviet Union||URS||424.38|
|9||Roland Weißpflog||25||East Germany||GDR||424.30|
|11||Karl-Heinz Luck||23||East Germany||GDR||414.02|
|12||Tõnu Haljand||22||Soviet Union||URS||412.68|
|13||John Bower||27||United States||USA||411.16|
|14||Günther Naumann||26||West Germany||FRG||410.89|
|15||Józef Gąsienica Daniel||22||Poland||POL||407.76|
|19||Mikhail Artyukhov||24||Soviet Union||URS||391.90|
|22||Georg Krog||21||United States||USA||383.76|
|25||Alfred Winkler||24||West Germany||FRG||381.59|
|26||Jim Miller||20||United States||USA||378.38|
|28||Kåre Olav Berg||23||Norway||NOR||375.60|
|29||Hans Rudhardt||22||West Germany||FRG||374.74|
|39||Tom Upham||24||United States||USA||325.17|