Fletcher doesn’t flinch: Steamboat skier punches ticket to 2022 Olympics
LAKE PLACID — Steamboat Springs’ Taylor Fletcher secured a spot at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday, Dec. 24, as he won the U.S. men’s Nordic combined Olympic Trials in Lake Placid, New York.
Fletcher will be heading to his fourth Olympic Games. He’s competed in every Winter Olympics since 2010, but he had never won an Olympic trial until Friday.
“To come away with it and secure it is a dream come true, for sure,” Fletcher said.
The 31-year-old finished fourth after the jumping round, which was led by Ben Loomis, of Park City. Fletcher started the cross-country portion 56 seconds behind Loomis, who has been the top performer from the national team at the World Cup events.
The deficit was on the edge of a time gap that Fletcher was confident he could close. He would have to cut 14 seconds per lap in the 10-kilometer race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in New York. Fletcher was aiming to cut the gap by 20 seconds per lap, so he wouldn’t have to outsprint Loomis at the finish.
“Ben’s the type of guy I don’t want to face coming down into the finish lane,” Fletcher said. “Because he’s faster.”
The Steamboat skier caught Loomis on lap three, giving him plenty of time to make his own move.
“It really took a lot of work to stay with Ben — he was skiing strong,” Fletcher said. “But at the same time, I needed to conserve some energy because I had already made up 56 seconds in three laps.
“I gave him a test on the fourth lap on the big hill, and he stuck in there. Then I kind of backed off. He kept going and almost dropped me, then I was able to get back on, and I could tell he was pretty tired. … From there, it was mano a mano who had the most legs, the most power.”
Fletcher pulled ahead and crossed the finish with the lead. When he realized the gap he had, it dawned on him he would be returning to the Olympics.
“It hit me as soon as I saw that he was too far away to catch me on the downhill. That’s when it kind of sunk in,” Fletcher said. “I was thrilled and definitely screaming. They might have to bleep out some cuss words, (in the broadcast on NBC on Saturday). I was thrilled.”
Fletcher is the first to qualify for the men’s Nordic combined so far, but the International Ski Federation Olympic quota list shows the United States can qualify a full team of five men.
Women did not participate in the trials because women’s Nordic combined is not yet an Olympic sport.
Fletcher is the veteran on the men’s Nordic combined team and the only remaining athlete from the 2010 Olympic roster, which featured Steamboat skiers Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, as well as Billy Demong and Brett Camerota, who won team silver.
Making the Olympics was just the first goal for Fletcher this winter.
Now, he can focus on improving his skills over the next couple weeks on the World Cup circuit.
“My goal is not just to go to the Olympics,” he said. “It’s to come away with my best results possible, and hopefully, it’s good enough for a medal.”
The ski jumping trials take place in Lake Placid on Saturday, Dec. 25. Tune in to Peacock or NBC at 10:30 a.m. MST to watch.
(name, jump points (jump place), total race time time)
1. Taylor Fletcher, 111.5 (4), 24:14. 2. Ben Loomis, 125.5 (1), 24:26.3. 3. Jared Schumate, 116.5 (3), 24:58.7. 4. Jasper Good, 117 (2), 25:12.9. 5. Stephen Schumman, 98 (9), 25:41.1. 6. Niklas Malacinski, 106.5 (5), 26:17.9. 7. Grant Andrews, 105.5 (7), 26:56.9. 8. Evan Nichols, 106.5 (6), 27:26.4. 9. Carter Brubaker, 95 (10), 28:20.6. 10. Erik Lynch, 77.5 (11), 28:21.7. 11. Gunnar Gilbertson, 100 (8), 28:30.9. 12. Aidan Ripp, 73 (12), 28:40.2. 13. Henry Johnstone, 67 (13), 30:23.
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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