Call him one of the sport’s saviors, the man who standardized its scoring system, and most importantly, made it more understandable for spectators and television audiences.
Before the Gundersen method came along in the mid-1980s, Nordic combined was complicated. After the ski jumping portion, athletes would start the cross-country race in intervals, and the gold medal would be decided on a scale of decathlon-style points from both events - the first guy across the line didn’t necessarily win.
And until the 1950s, ski jumping was often held after an 18-kilometer cross-country race.
Gundersen, who died in 2005 at the age of 74, came along and set up a system first used at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary where placings in the ski jumping determined when skiers went off in pursuit fashion in the cross-country portion.
“Gundersen had a huge impact on our sport,” said Lasse Ottesen, the International Ski Federation race director who won a silver medal for Norway in ski jumping at the 1994 Olympics.
“TV-wise, and for spectators, it changed everything and made it more understandable,” Ottesen said. “And biathlon and cross-country skiing are now incorporating a similar system.”
If a competitor wins ski jumping, they start off by themselves in the cross-country race, and the chasing pack is sent off in intervals based on how many points behind they were on the ski hill.
It’s not quite that simple, but before it gets complicated again, a bit on the man himself.
Gundersen was from Norway, birthplace of the sport, but was never outstanding in Nordic combined. He had two individual world championship medals - a silver in 1954 and a bronze in 1958 - and won the historic Holmenkollen ski festival, first held in 1892, three times.
His best Olympic finish, however, was 11th at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
He returned to the United States in 1980 when he was technical director of the Nordic combined individual event at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics.
Gundersen obviously was destined to make his name elsewhere in the sport. So back to his method.
It’s been refined over the years - before 2008, the event included two jumps from the ski jumping normal hill, and a 15-kilometer cross-country race. Since then, it’s been the current system of one ski jump and the 10-kilometer cross-country race to follow.
Points behind from ski jumping are translated into a specific number of seconds behind for the cross-country race.