Full on Fletcher: Taylor wins by a hair | SteamboatToday.com

Full on Fletcher: Taylor wins by a hair

Taylor Fletcher celebrates after winning Sunday's Continental Cup Nordic combined race at Solider Hollow, Utah. Fletcher started the race 17th, but worked his way up to win in a sprint to the finish.

— At one point even Taylor Fletcher wasn't sure going full Taylor Fletcher would be enough, but Taylor Fletcher probably wouldn't be Taylor Fletcher — at least not the man as he his now — if that doubt had stopped him.

So, yet again, Fletcher laid down a blistering pace in the 10-kilometer cross country ski race Sunday on the final day of Nordic combined Continental Cup competition in Utah.

Yet again he passed more than a dozen competitors, and, yet again he trailed Austria's David Pommer by about 10 feet as they near the finish line area.

On Saturday, Fletcher couldn't quite catch up, finishing 0.1 seconds back. On Sunday, though, his furious charge paid off, as he caught Pommer at the line to win by that same narrow margin, taking the day's event and capping a strong week of skiing for the United States contingent.

"I always try," Fletcher said. "I was doubting myself early, because he looked so strong, but people kept telling me I was getting closer and closer, and, tactically, I skied a pretty perfect race."

The term "going full Taylor Fletcher" is defined as "when a Nordic combined skier races startlingly faster than his or her competition and makes up an absurd amount of time in a race."

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Or, at least it should be defined like that, because Fletcher, the Steamboat Springs-born U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member, has made it his hallmark. He's ranked for several years, now, as one of the fastest, if not the very fastest, skier on the World Cup, and his very particular set of skills was on full display all weekend in Utah.

He raced to third Friday, to second Saturday and finally to first Sunday, spreading his arms wide and shouting as he crossed the finish line a blink ahead of Pommer. He had started in 17th place, 1 minute, 16 seconds behind the leader and 1:12 behind Pommer.

"Through the third lap, I thought, ‘If I can keep this pace, it will be good,’" said Pommer, who finished a spectacular weekend of his own.

He won the weekend's first two race and earned his own spot on the World Cup.

"I started going uphill after that, and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm (in trouble,)'" he said with a laugh.

Fletcher's win was important for a handful of reasons beyond the very most obvious, that winning is good.

For one, he's hoping it can be a nice personal springboard, as he and the rest of the team head to Europe on Monday for the next World Cup date, Saturday and Sunday in Ramsau, Austria.

As important as that, though, Fletcher's second-place spot in the Continental Cup standings from the weekend earns the U.S. team an extra spot on the World Cup circuit starting in January.

A whole bunch of young skiers showed this weekend that they were eager to fill that spot, too. In fact, the squad enjoyed one of its best international competitions since the legends of the last Nordic combined generation — Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong — retired.

Sunday it was Steamboat Springs skier Ben Berend stepping up. He turned a third-place ski jump into a sixth-place finish, the best result of his career. He had been eighth the day before, and 12th on Friday.

"It's so fun," Berend said. "I set a personal best every single day. It means everything we're doing is working. It means the world."

Michael Ward was 12th, Steamboat's Jasper Good 15th, Ben Loomis 21st, Stephen Schumann 26th and Koby Vargas, finishing his first weekend of Continental Cup action, 33rd.

"It was huge for me," said Vargas, 17 and a Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete. "It's such a big step up from where I have been competing, and it was a great opportunity to ski with everyone from the world."

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

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