Park City Nordic combined Olympians grapple with sport’s future
Men’s Nordic combined will still be held in 2026, but future Games are unclear
Park City Nordic combined athletes Jared Shumate and Stephen Schumann made their Olympic debuts in Beijing just a few months ago. But their sport’s future at the Games is unclear.
The IOC announced in June that not only would women’s Nordic combined not be added to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, but that men’s Nordic combined could be on the chopping block after 2026 as well. The IOC cited low audience numbers and the fact that only four countries won the last 27 medals in the event.
“The inclusion of Nordic Combined in the Olympic Winter Games 2030 depends on a significant positive development, particularly with regard to participation and audience,” the release stated.
Leading up to the announcement, there were rumblings that the sport could be dropped from the Olympics altogether. The sport will stick around for 2026 since the Games are only three-and-a-half years away. The IOC didn’t think it would be fair to the men who are already training for the Games.
That’s still not any comfort for athletes like Shumate and Schumann, however. Both athletes are in their early 20s, so they could potentially be affected by Nordic combined’s status for 2030.
“It was definitely shock at first because we had heard rumors for the last couple months that they were considering removing men’s Nordic combined from the program as well,” Shumate said. “But to see that come out in a formal decision from the IOC, I don’t know, I think the word that I’ve used the most is devastating. Because whether or not I continue to ski either to 2030 or past that, that kind of ruins the future of all the young athletes that are training now with the goal of going to the Olympics.”
“It’s short-sighted to me that the IOC would even be considering pulling one of the original sports out of the Olympic Games,” Schumann added. “It takes a lot of the history out of it. It’s kind of odd. It seems short-sighted on the IOC’s part to just be, like, ‘Ah, we’re just going to pull it,’ rather than working to make it better.”
Schumann thought that the IOC’s decision regarding women’s Nordic combined was at odds with its push to make the Winter Olympics more balanced between men’s and women’s events.
“Hopefully, the IOC figures themselves out and realizes that they’re being hypocritical,” he said. “Saying that their goal is equality between men and women and Olympic sports and having the opportunity to create the first-ever fully equal Winter Olympics as far as athletes in those sports and basically throwing it away.”
Schumann wasn’t impressed with the IOC’s arguments for leaving the women out of the 2026 Olympics, either. The IOC said the women had only one world championship, and only 10 countries attended. Schumann thought that the IOC didn’t consider any potential growth in the sport leading up to 2026.
“Having gone from not having a World Cup circuit to having a World Cup circuit with 30-plus athletes in just two years, the potential growth over the next four years is really, really good,” Schumann said. “They already have better support from the International Ski (and Snowboard) Federation and men’s Nordic combined as far as prize money and funding and that kind of stuff. There’s a stronger push for more events for them. So, I think the IOC’s reasoning as far as there only being 10 countries right now and it not being diverse enough is not necessarily valid.”
Shumate and Schumann still have their sights set on returning to the Olympics in 2026. Shumate finished 17th in the large hill/10K and 19th in the normal hill/10K and helped the U.S. finish sixth in the team event in Beijing. Schumann came in 25th in the normal hill/10K event. But the sport’s future is on their minds.
“Honestly, in terms of my training, it’s going to continue as normal because we still have World Cup season, world championships and the next Olympics,” Shumate said. “But it adds a little bit more stress to the sport outside the training because we still have to always continue to fight for equality and push everyone to get on board with adding women’s Nordic combined to the Olympics.”
“In the bigger picture… I have a lot of stress outside of just showing up and training,” he added. “I have a lot of stress (from) the political side of the sport.”
There’s an extra layer of motivation for the two Parkites in 2026, as the U.S. isn’t among the four countries that have claimed one of those last 27 medals in Nordic combined. Both obviously want to win an Olympic medal, but if a more diverse podium will save their sport at the Olympics, then it’ll be even sweeter.
“I would say it’s definitely more motivating to get out there and prove the IOC wrong and show that it’s not just a domination sport giving those four countries all the medals,” Schumann said. “Hopefully, everyone else sees that as a motivating factor, and we can mix it up more at the top.”
For now, the focus is on training for the World Cup and the world championships this coming season with a long-term goal of contending in 2026. But the sport’s future beyond that is murky.
“We know we have an event (in 2026), so that’s easy,” Schumann said. “Just go and train hard, train well, more importantly, and recover and do all that stuff. But as far as 2030, that definitely affects life a little bit. Definitely, there is a feeling of limbo, waiting to see what the IOC decides.”
Shumate said that he started in the sport when he was 10, while Schumann said he’s been ski jumping or competing in Nordic combined for the last 18 years. Both are doing what they can to fight for their sport.
“It’s been such a big part of my life that I will always continue to fight for the sport,” Shumate said. “Definitely still have the motivation to continue to train and be the best athlete that I can. But that will definitely be a thought in the back of my mind for the next four years of training, that training for the 2026 Olympics, it’s possible that it’s the last opportunity.”
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