Steamboat Nordic combined skier Fletcher is going to his fourth, and final, Olympics
Taylor Fletcher is an old man. At least, his teammates like to say so.
The 31-year-old veteran of the men’s Nordic combined national team is six years older than the next oldest team member and 12 years senior of the youngest team member. While that warrants a lot of respect, Fletcher also gets his fair share of jokes and jabs.
“I don’t think he likes it that much that we call him that,” said Jasper Good, a teammate who also hails from Steamboat Springs. “But he calls himself the old man sometimes, too. It’s a well-meaning joke.”
The nickname might poke fun of Fletcher’s age, but it also makes his longevity in the sport impossible to ignore. Fletcher has been on the national team for 13 years and is competing in his fourth Olympics in Beijing. While Fletcher is older than his teammates, he’s also faster and takes pride passing them on the cross-country course.
“At heart, I still feel young, but when you look at age, yes, I am one of the older athletes,” Fletcher said. “On those good days when I’m beating a lot of the younger kids, it’s fun to push them around and say, ‘You just got beat by an old man.’”
When Fletcher went to his first Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver, he was the youngest team member at 19 years old. He was the fifth man on the historic roster of Billy Demong, Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota that took silver in the team event.
Spillane earned a pair of silvers in the large and normal hill, while Demong won the large hill event. Fletcher finished 46th in the normal hill.
“It’s hard to not think about the success our team had and where our team could possibly be,” Fletcher said. “That was definitely one of the highlights of my career even though I personally skied terribly.”
At the time, Fletcher was a kid compared to his teammates, who had all been to at least one Olympic Games prior. He was six years younger than Camerota, and 14 years younger than Lodwick, who was participating in his fifth Olympics.
Lodwick also is no stranger to longevity in the sport, and he’s one of just three people to have competed in Nordic combined at six Olympics.
Lodwick said the key to staying in a demanding sport for so long is motivation. For Lodwick, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, as well as having so many Olympians come from Steamboat, instilled in him a determination that carried him through more than two decades of professional competitions.
“The overwhelming factor of dreaming big and believing in yourself and the system, but also doing what you love,” Lodwick said. “If you’re not doing what you love to do, there’s no point.”
Putting on the bib for his first-ever Olympic event was a moment Fletcher will never forget, and he said he still gets the same feeling every time he puts on a bib. He’s made 161 World Cup starts, including six appearances at the World Ski Championships.
Skiing alongside his brother, Bryan Fletcher, for years were top moments of his career, led by the brothers experiencing the world’s greatest athletic stage together in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
161 World Cup starts
6 World Ski Championships
4 Olympic Games
2 World Junior Championships
20-plus countries visited
50-plus different jumps
4,550 estimated jumps in his professional career
1 massage weekly every winter for 13 years
An unfathomable amount of Honey Stinger chews — “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have one before a race,” he said.
“Walking into opening ceremonies with my brother for the first time was pretty special,” Taylor said.
The pair also competed together in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Bryan led the team and took 18th in the normal hill, while Taylor was 39th. Taylor’s best finish at the Olympic level was 35th in the large hill in 2014.
Fletcher has been consistently earning top-30 finishes over the last couple years, something he thinks is happening because he’s found joy in the sport again.
He considered retirement in 2019, nearly calling it quits after Bryan did following the 2018 Olympics.
In September of that year, their father, Tim Fletcher, died of ALS. In August 2019, their stepfather, Fred Fuller, was in a serious bike accident that could have left him paralyzed. Adding to the personal devastation of his late 20s, Taylor and his longtime girlfriend split.
He didn’t know what he was doing anymore. He wasn’t happy with his results and he wasn’t having fun.
Taylor pushed through the 2018-19 season in dedication of his father, and he decided the 2019-20 season should be for him. Then he started to find joy in the sport again.
Bryan admires that Fletcher has not only stuck with the sport for so long, but improved year after year.
“He’s obviously been in the sport for quite a number of years,” Bryan said. “Definitely, he keeps trying to evolve his performance and improve it with time, which is never easy to do. I give him a lot of credit for working hard for all these years and trying to be a better version of himself as an athlete.”
Now, Taylor is riding a wave of confidence and trust in himself. So far, it’s carried him to some of the best results of his career. However, if that success continues in Beijing, he won’t be able to share it with his family for the first time in his career since there are no foreign spectators allowed at the Games this year due to the pandemic.
“I know my mom would be there without a doubt if there wasn’t a ban on spectators,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely challenging to think my dad won’t be there. It’s tough. It’s really tough to think that, but he’s up above, and I know he’ll help me in any way possible and give me the best thoughts for sure.”
This won’t be the end of Fletcher’s career, but it’ll more than likely be his last Olympics. He’s not one to announce retirement up front, but doesn’t see himself competing in four years, although he might stick around for another one or two.
“When that time comes to hang up the shoes, it’s definitely going to be very tough,” Fletcher said. “But at the same time, I’m going to be able to walk away and say I gave everything.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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