Dedication pays off for determined Knutsen

Picture by IOC

Norwegian ski jumper Tormod Knutsen was only 17 when he gained national prominence in winning the country’s youth title in Trondheim in 1949, an achievement he followed up by taking the national junior title two years later. It was then that he chose to devote his energies to the Nordic combined, a decision that brought him yet more success on the domestic front.

His dream of achieving Olympic glory came a step closer when he was put on standby for the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo. And when an arm injury befell team member Gunder Gundersen (who later invented and gave his name to the method used to convert ski jumping points into cross country skiing start times in the Nordic combined), Knutsen was duly called up to replace him, the youngster acquitting himself well in placing sixth in an event won by his compatriot Sverre Sternersen.

When Squaw Valley 1960 came around, the ambitious Knutsen had serious designs on winning gold himself, having secured successive national Nordic combined titles in 1959 and 1960 and won the coveted Holmenkollen crown in 1958. Yet, to many people’s surprise, he came off second-best to German ski jumping specialist Georg Thoma in the cross-country skiing race and had to settle for silver.

Though Knutsen continued to impress on the international stage in the seasons that followed, he found major success elusive, just missing out on a medal in the men’s individual event at the 1962 FIS World Championships in Zakopane. That same winter saw significant developments in the Norway team, with Sverre Sternersen taking over as head coach and Gundersen becoming captain, changes that helped Knutsen reach peak form in time for his third Winter Games at the age of 32.

He began his push for gold at Innsbruck by jumping 74m and 72m on the normal hill in Seefeld, a performance that put him second in the standings, just 2.2 points behind defending champion Thoma, which equated to a 12-second gap in the following day’s cross-country skiing race.

Knutsen was not to be denied this time. Maintaining a steady pace as he reeled in the skiers in front of him, he completed the course in a fourth-fastest time of 50:58.6, while his German rival fell twice and trailed in 10th, finishing 1:33 adrift of Knutsen. The Norwegian topped the podium from the USSR’s Nikolay Kiselyov, with Thoma having to settle for bronze. The fastest man over the cross country course was Switzerland’s Alois Kälin, who climbed up to 12th overall after finishing 28th in the ski jumping.

After finally fulfilling his lifelong Olympic dream and then finishing sixth as Thoma gained immediate revenge in winning the 1964 Holmenkollen title, Knutsen brought an end to his career. It was not until 20 years and five Winter Games later that another Norwegian would climb on to the Nordic combined podium: Tom Sandberg, who won the event at Sarajevo 1984.


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