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Gearing Up in Nordic Combined

The men who compete in Nordic combined —it is the last remaining Olympic sport not to have a women’s event — do ski jumping first, then cross-country skiing.

The man with the best jump score, determined by both distance and form, starts the 10-kilometer cross-country race first. The others start minutes later, handicapped by their various jump scores. They need a remarkable array of gear — like this complement, owned by the Norwegian competitor Joergen Graabak.

Gearing Up in Nordic Combined

1.Like a cap in swimming, the ski helmet helps reduce drag (and protects the skier’s brain in a crash).

2.The jumping suit must be made of spongy, air-permeable material and extend no more than two centimeters beyond the athlete’s body shape (four centimeters for sleeves and crotch) — no suits with flying-squirrel wings.

3.Stiff cones fit over the athletes’ ankles and into their boots, allowing them to lean farther forward over the skis.

4.Jumping skis — which can be as long as 145 percent of competitor’s height (unless the skier’s B.M.I. is below 21, in which case the skis must be shorter, to counteract the advantage of being lighter) — vary in rigidity and work like wings. “On a small hill you need a soft ski,” Graabak says; it allows you to lean your body lower. On a big, fast hill, you need stiffer skis, because the air pressure beneath them contributes real lift. “If your skis are too soft on a big hill,” he says, “you will feel totally dead in the air.”

5.Poles, which can be as long as 100 percent of an athlete’s height, allow cross-country skiers to translate upper-body strength into speed.

6.Cross-country ski goggles are smaller than jumping ones: The athletes sweat more and don’t want them to fog up.

7.Racing suits are very elastic and wick moisture, like running tights.

8.Graabak has up to 25 pairs of competition-ready cross-country skis at any given time. When it’s cold, he wants a flexible ski that moves across the ground with even pressure. When it’s warm and slushy, he favors a ski with a soft tip, like a water ski, and a structure, or sole, on the ski’s bottom that can transport lots of water.

9.The man who services Graabak’s skis spends about 15 hours preparing gear for race day. “The right ski,” Graabak says, “might make the difference between first and 10th.”

Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for the magazine. She last wrote a feature about a Chinese-mafia don.

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