Big plans for Nordic combined team at championships
Steamboat Springs — If you’d asked him the same question six weeks ago and today, “what are your goals at the world championships?”, U.S. Nordic combined Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher said he’d have given you the same answer both times.
“Obviously, my goals are to come away with a medal,” he said Tuesday, speaking from Falun, Sweden, site of the FIS Nordic Skiing World Championships, which get underway Wednesday.
“To come away with a top-five or a top-10 finish would be fantastic,” he continued, “but I really want an individual medal.”
The difference is, six weeks ago, he may not have believed it was possible.
Now, he’s convinced it is, and he’s one of a trio of veteran U.S. athletes, joined by two newcomers, who will try to get back into the medals at the biggest event on this year’s Nordic skiing calendar.
“We’ve always focused on world championships and the Olympics, and I’ve really focused on coming home with some medals,” Fletcher said.
Action gets underway Wednesday with opening ceremonies, then for real for Steamboat athletes Thursday with the women’s ski jumping qualifications. Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club product Nita Englund will compete there.
The competition starts for the Nordic combined team — stacked, as always, with Steamboat-connected athletes — Friday, with an individual normal hill Gundersen event with a 10-kilometer ski race.
A four-man team relay event follows Sunday and, after a three-day break, another individual event — this one off the large jumping hill Feb. 26. The final event, a two-man relay, is Feb. 28.
Olympic and World Championship gold medalist Billy Demong will be back to lead the team, capping what’s been a sporadic season of competition for him in what is likely the final event of his groundbreaking career.
Demong, a New York native and Utah resident, has long been considered a local by Steamboaters, thanks to the years he spent training in town early in his career.
Steamboat’s Bryan Fletcher will be on the team, bringing with him the squad’s most consistent World Cup results.
He’s placed in the top 10 in six individual World Cup events this season, including in four of his last eight competitions. This will be his fourth championships.
Taylor Fletcher will be back for his third championships and brings the team’s top World Cup result from this season. After a fairly miserable start to the winter, he’s been on fire recently, earning his second career World Cup podium last month in Japan.
Early in the year, when he wasn’t jumping well enough to even qualify for World Cup events, Taylor Fletcher’s aspirations of a championship medal seemed far fetched.
That’s changed, however.
His jumping has improved to the point where he’s consistently making the field, and once he’s there, he’s been able to prove that he’s still one of the fastest skiers.
He said if his jump is good enough for him to start a race within 1 minute, 30 seconds of the leaders, he’ll feel great.
“I feel 110 percent better,” Fletcher said. “If you look back to the beginning of the season, my goals were the same, my thoughts were the same, but now they’ve become more realistic. I know there’s a greater possibility I’ll reach them.”
That trio of the Fletchers and Demong, made up 75 percent of the U.S. relay at the 2013 World Championships, where the team won a bronze medal.
Demong was also on the team in 2009, when he and Todd Lodwick combined to sweep the three individual events, Demong winning gold once and Lodwick twice. Demong also won a bronze that year.
“Bill is Bill,” Fletcher said. “He showed that today (in training) when he was jumping with some of the best guys.”
Filling out the squad are Adam Loomis, who’s trained in Steamboat, and Ben Berend, who’s from Steamboat.
Loomis, 22, had only several sporadic World Cup starts entering the season but has been a regular on the circuit this winter. He’s been making his mark on it, too, earning World Cup points in four events.
Berend, 19, is coming off a strong showing in the FIS Junior World Championships, where he led U.S. skiers with a 13th-place finish. He’s skied in a pair of World Cups this season in addition to regular starts on the Continental Cup circuit.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are normally pretty quiet around the base area of Steamboat Resort this time of year, but a lot has happened since the ski area closed following the 2020-21 season.