Oddbjørn Hagen arrived in Garmisch as the reigning two-time world Nordic combined champion, having won gold in 1934 in Sollefteå (SWE) and again in Vysoké Tatry (CZE) a year later. The Norwegian also triumphed at the prestigious Holmekollen Ski Festival three times between 1932 and 1935 and was regarded as one of his country’s finest cross-country skiers.
Hagen’s first outing at the 1936 Winter Games came when he skied the opening leg of the new 4x10km cross-country relay. Stealing a march on Finland’s Sulo Nurmela and Sweden’s John Berger, both of whom fell, he built up a lead of over a minute by the time he handed over to team-mate Olaf Hoffsbakken, who maintained Norway’s advantage, as did Sverre Brodahl, their third man out.
Norway’s gold-medal hopes evaporated, however, when anchorman Bjarne Iversen wilted on the long climb in the first half of the course and was passed Finland’s Kalle Jalkanen, who stayed out front all the way to the line, with Iversen coming in six seconds behind. Sweden took third, two minutes off the pace.
Two days later, Hagen lined up with 109 other competitors – a record field – for the 18 km cross-country race, which was a medal event in its own right and also doubled up as the first leg of the Nordic combined competition, one that the versatile Hagen had also entered.
The participants set off at 30-second intervals, with Hagen, starting 59th, completing the course in 1:15.33, fully three and a half minutes faster than anyone out before him.
As the Norwegian waited to see what the rest of the field could do, Sweden’s Erik-August Larsson, wearing the No93 bib, was having the race of his life, overtaking several competitors before crossing the line in a time of 1:14.38, some 55 seconds clear of Hagen.
Though somewhat disappointed to be collecting a second silver medal in 48 hours, the Norwegian at least had the satisfaction of knowing he was well clear of his rivals in the Nordic combined.
Hagen made sure of the gold the following day, putting in jumps of 42m and 46m on the Große Olympiaschanze hill to compile an overall total of 430.3 points, with compatriots Hoffsbakken and Brodahl completing a clean sweep for Norway, the country’s fourth in the Nordic combined in as many Winter Games.
With three medals, Hagen was the second most successful athlete at Garmisch 1936, behind his fellow countryman, speed skater Ivar Ballangrud.