Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher leads Americans in season-opening World Cups
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Despite a subpar jumping performance on the final day in Ruka, Finland, Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher came away from the opening weekend of the World Cup season inspired.
“Yesterday wasn’t the result that I was hoping for, but overall, I think two top-20 finishes in a weekend is a solid start to the season,” said Fletcher, who placed 29th overall in Sunday’s event. “Obviously, here in Ruka, things are a little bit luck oriented, and the last day, I didn’t have quite the luck that I needed.
“The jumping wasn’t quite where I needed it to be, and as a result, it limited the impact that I could have in the race,” Fletcher explained. “So yeah, it was not the finish that I was looking for, but overall, I think it was a solid start for the season, and hopefully, I can build up from here.”
Fletcher opened the week with a 17th-place finish in a one-jump, 5-kilometer race Friday. On Saturday, he raced to an 18th-place finish after jumping to 31st place and then posting the fourth fastest cross country time to move up in the field. He capped that off with another gutsy performance in Sunday’s cross country race, making the most of a day where he could have thrown in the towel.
Saturday’s race was won by Japan’s Akito Watabe, who won the jumping portion and crossed the finish line in first place with a time of 24 minutes, 58 seconds. Finland’s Eero Hirvonen was second 31 seconds back, and Germany’s Johannes Rydzek was third 32 seconds behind the winner.
Fletcher was the only American to qualify for the official round in Saturday’s race, and he crossed the finish line 1:45 behind Watabe.
Steamboat’s Ben Berend just missed competing Saturday, which included the top 50 jumpers after the qualification round. He was 52nd in the qualification round, and along with Taylor Fletcher, failed to make the cut.
The final World Cup event in Ruka took place Sunday where Bryan Fletcher and teammate Berend both qualified for the finals round.
“I think the whole sport in general is pretty strong, and I think just to qualify on a World Cup these days is pretty difficult,” Fletcher said. “It’s even harder on hills like this where you need a perfect jump and really good luck just to get over the knoll. I think there will be some better performances from those guys in Lillehammer . . . but I think overall the depth of the field right now is really strong.”
Bryan Fletcher struggled on the jump hill, just making it into the finals with a 43rd place showing in the preliminary round Sunday. Berend, who has improved with each jump this season, soared to 36th in the qualifying and was the top American for the official round.
Berend jumped to 37th in his first official round of the 2017 season, and Fletcher was 39th. Fletcher was able to move up in the cross county race placing 29th, as Berend fell to 45th after the cross country portion.
Despite the disappointing jump result, Fletcher was determined to climb back into the top-20 in the race. He was able to pick up 10 spots but said there was a gap between him and the next group of skiers that he just could not overcome as he skied most of the course by himself.
“I moved up 10 spots, but if you look at the results and the way things shook out, there was a huge gap in front of me where it was almost 30 seconds to the next group.” he said. “As a result, I was left skiing on my own, by myself. The pack in front of me was 10 to 15 guys, and I was definitely racing to catch that group, but I was solo, and when you have a pack like that working in front of you, it’s really hard to catch them.”
Bryan Fletcher said if he could have achieved that goal he may have broken into the top-20 for a third straight day. But on Sunday, it just wasn’t in the cards.
The race for the podium came down to a photo finish with Rydzek holding off teammate Eric Frenzel by half a second to win the race. Finland’s Hirvonen was third just 1.9 seconds off the pace.
Now the Nordic combined World Cup heads to Lillehammer, Norway, Saturday for a team event. That competition will be followed by an individual Gundersen race Sunday.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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