Youth dominates on Nordic combined World Champs team |

Youth dominates on Nordic combined World Champs team

Bryan Fletcher jumps at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. He was a part of a relay team that finished third that year. He'll be back for his fifth World Championships this season.

— The U.S. Nordic combined team is in the midst of a youth movement, and that more than anything is reflected in the five skiers the team is taking to Lahti, Finland, later this month for the 2017 World Nordic Championships.

The team announced this week that long-time veterans Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher, Steamboat Springs-born brothers, will be on the team, along with Steamboat skier Ben Berend and Adam Loomis and Ben Loomis, both of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

"We've really been talking about investing in development, trying to grow our development pipeline, and this is a big indicator of that," Bryan Fletcher said. "We've had really competitive juniors for a lot of years, pushing their level up. Certainly that's what our focus has been on."

Bryan Fletcher, 30, will be competing on his fifth World Championships team. He first made the cut in 2007. He was there in 2011, then in 2013, when he was a part of the United States' bronze-medal winning Nordic combined relay team. He also competed in 2013, and in 2015, where he posted his best individual result, a fifth-place finish in the HS134/10-kilometer event.

Taylor Fletcher, 26, meanwhile, has been to four World Championships, starting in 2011. He was also on the 2013 bronze-medal team, then competed in 2015, as well.

It'll be the first trip for Ben Loomis, 18, and the second for Adam Loomis and Berend, both 21.

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"My first World Championships team, I was the fifth guy, the alternate,” Berend said. “I remember when I found out I was going, I was in Kazakhstan at World Juniors. That was a really big moment for me. That trip was mostly about gaining experience for me, seeing what it was like. This time I'm going into it really ready to compete."

Berend raced in one event in 2015, placing 45th and nearly 5 minutes off the gold medal winner, but he said the exposure to that high level of competition was invaluable. While he'd spent plenty of time with, for instance, U.S. skier and Olympic and World Championship gold medalist Billy Demong, he hadn't competed with him.

The experience was enlightening, from Demong's composure on the course to his grins off of it, whether hanging out between events or scaling a 10-foot wall to crawl into a cabin accidentally locked with the keys inside.

"It didn't go super well," Berend said, still finding a laugh two years later.

"I learned from him not to take it all seriously," he said. "The awesome thing about Bill is he's able to be highly successful and have a blast doing it when he was an athlete."

Tough decisions

The Fletchers both earned their spot on the team by meeting criteria that was set in the preseason. For Bryan, his ninth-place finish at a World Cup event this year assured he'd be there, and Taylor's spot on the top-50 World Cup ranking list was enough.

Other criteria included a podium at a Continental Cup event or at the World Nordic Junior Championships, which took place earlier this month in Park City, Utah. No one U.S. skier met those marks, so coaches ranked their athletes by World Cup and Continental Cup finishes.

That left Steamboat's Jasper Good and young up-and-comer Stephen Schumann just off the list.

"If we could have brought seven, we would have loved to," U.S. coach Dave Jarrett said. "The guys were so tight, we had to leave it to objective criteria to decide.

"It's no fun to be on Jasper and Stephen's side. I've been there and know how it is. As a coach and as a former athlete, I would prefer those decisions be made by objective criteria as much as possible instead of, 'I feel this guy is coming on so we’ll take him instead.'"

The World Championships start with opening ceremonies Feb. 22. The first Nordic combined event, the HS100, 10K is Feb. 24. A four-man HS100, 20K relay is Feb. 26, a HS130, 10K will be held March 1 and a two-man HS130, 15K relay is scheduled for March 3.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

2017 World Championships Nordic combined team

Bryan Fletcher

Age: 30

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 4 years, 13 races

Best result: Team – 3rd, 2013; Individual – 5th, 2015

Taylor Fletcher

Age: 26

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 3 years, 10 races

Best result: Team – 3rd, 2013; Individual – 17th, 2013

Ben Berend

Age: 21

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 1 year, 1 race

Best result: Individual – 45th, 2015

Ben Loomis

Age: 18

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

World Championship appearances: None

Adam Loomis

Age: 21

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

World Championship appearances: 1 year, 2 races

Best result: Team – 7th, 2015; Individual – 41st, 2015

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