The International Olympic Committee decided Friday not to add a women’s Nordic combined event to the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, a devastating setback for dozens of women who have dedicated their lives to the event in recent years and a potentially fatal blow to one of the original Winter Olympic competitions.
Men will continue to compete in Nordic combined, which requires excellence in both ski jumping and cross-country skiing. But their event is in jeopardy now for the 2030 Games because the Olympic committee has prioritized sports that are capable of achieving gender equity.
Karl Stoss of Austria, a member of the executive board of the Olympic committee, said the survival of Nordic combined would depend on the sport showing “significant positive development particularly with participation and audience.”
Stoss noted that just 10 countries sent athletes to the world championship competition for women’s Nordic combined in 2021.
“This is not fulfilling universality,” Stoss said. “It’s very interesting for us in the European countries, but outside of Europe you cannot really find athletes doing this sport.”
Kit McConnell, the I.O.C.’s sports director, said the organization decided to allow the men’s competition to go forward in 2026 because it would not be fair to the athletes to eliminate their sport just three and half years before the Games.
Leaders of skiing’s international governing body, F.I.S., have spent the better part of a decade establishing a women’s World Cup circuit for Nordic combined and a world championship.
They had proposed a women’s competition at the Olympics with 30 top athletes. But knowing that the I.O.C. had limited the number of athletes at the Games to 2,900 and wanted to include new sports, Nordic combined proposed cutting the number of men’s Nordic combined competitors by 15, so the number of total athletes for the sport would increase by only 15.
Annika Malacinski, 21, the top American woman in Nordic combined, has put full-time college on hold for three years to reach the highest level of her sport.
“How could they? How dare they?” Malacinski said of the Olympic committee. “The time and effort I have put into building this sport with so many amazing girls around the world and for the I.O.C. to tell us that we are not enough?”
Lasse Ottesen of Norway, a Nordic combined race director, called the decision “a sad day” for the sport.
“The development of the Nordic combined women in recent years has been more than impressive, so that the next logical step would have been their participation,” Ottesen said. “The executive board’s lack of confidence in the further development of our discipline and the visible misjudgment of the achievements of our women is shocking.”
The I.O.C. tried to soften the blow to women by noting that it had adjusted other events so that 47 percent of the athletes in 2026 will be women. Among other changes, women’s ski jumping will include a competition on the large hill in addition to the smaller normal hill, and there will be more female bobsledders and also a women’s doubles luge event. Also, each of Nordic combined’s disciplines will continue to exist as individual events.
Opponents of including Nordic combined for either men or women have questioned its relevance.
A century ago, when cross-country skiing and ski jumping were essentially the only kinds of skiing that existed, a combined event crowned the world’s greatest skier. The initial Olympics, the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France, included just 16 events in nine sports. There are now more than 100 events in 15 sports. With the advent of Alpine skiing and freestyle, to say nothing of snowboarding, Nordic combined no longer defines a king or queen of the mountain.
Organizers are trying to limit the size of the Games while also incorporating new sports that appeal to a younger generation. The breakout star of last winter’s Beijing Games was Eileen Gu, the freestyle skier who won gold medals in big air and halfpipe and a silver in slopestyle, events that did not exist a decade ago. Big air for skiing was added just this year.
Also, organizers have questioned whether Nordic combined will ever be able to produce geographic diversity. The countries that excel include the usual list of Olympic stalwarts, and there is little potential for top competitors from South America, Africa or Asian countries besides Japan.
Malacinski said the I.O.C. had placed itself on the wrong side of history.
“I hope that they realize that not only have they potentially killed the future of Nordic combined — an original Olympic sport, but also so many young girls’ dreams of becoming Olympians,” she said. “The fight has just begun.”