Season to start with daunting jump for U.S. Nordic combined team
Steamboat Springs — Kuusamo, Finland is cold and dark, Taylor Fletcher said, and the ski jump at the Ruka ski resort looms large and ominous, even to a two-time Olympian and seven-year veteran of the World Cup circuit.
“It’s pitch black all day long. You never really see the sun,” Taylor Fletcher said. “It’s one of the biggest hills — maybe the biggest — we’ll jump all year long. It’s usually really cold, and it can be very windy.”
Fortunately for both Taylor Fletcher and Kuusamo, he doesn’t work for the Finland Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately for him, Kuusamo has proven to be a daunting thorn in his side, and whether he likes it or not, it’s the site this weekend of the first leg of the 2015-16 Nordic combined World Cup.
Still, Taylor Fletcher’s reservations about this weekend’s locale aren’t nearly enough to dampen his optimistic outlook for the coming season, and when he and the other members of the U.S. Nordic combined Ski Team take flight starting Saturday, they’ll do so eagerly.
The season gets underway Saturday with a large hill competition, then continues Sunday with another.
“We’re just hoping all of us go up there and have what we feel is a good day,” Fletcher said. “We’re extremely excited for it. We’ve just want to get the season started and see where we’re at.”
Taylor Fletcher will be joined by his brother, Bryan Fletcher, Jasper Good and Adam Loomis in the season’s first weekend. Of the four, only Loomis didn’t grow up in Steamboat Springs, but he, a Wisconsin native, spent plenty of time in recent years training in town.
All four skiers have big plans for the season, which is unique, because there isn’t a World Championships or an Olympic Games to act as a carrot for competitors.
That makes it a season for major work in Bryan Fletcher’s eyes.
He’s been one of the current team’s most reliable skiers, placing in the top 10 six times last season and finishing fifth after battling for a medal at World Championships. Still, he sees more in himself. He also finished 20th or worse six times on the season and hasn’t made the podium individually since 2012.
“The goal this summer was to break my jumping all the way down, then build it all back up,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m closer. I don’t expect it to yield results instantly, but I do expect to start finding more consistency at a higher level.”
He’s never been able to effectively follow up on good competitions, mixing strong results with weak. That’s something he’s intent on changing this season.
Jumping has bedeviled Taylor Fletcher, as well.
He’s proven again and again he’s an elite racer, and he expects again this season to be able to record some of the fastest cross country times. Kuusamo, in particular, has been trouble, however, as he’s often not jumped well enough in the competition to even get the chance to compete in the cross country ski portion of the race.
The key this year, he explained, is aggressiveness.
“You can go either 90 meters, or, if you get the right amount of aggressive, you can go 140 on the very same jump,” he said. “This one’s just special. It’s a beast, and you have to be able to go out there and control your emotions but also push the limit just a little. I’ve always been a little passive with it, but the guys who go up there with a mentality of going for it will succeed more often than not.”
For Good and Loomis, meanwhile, the weekend is an important opportunity, both personally and for the team.
Loomis broke through a year ago and scored points with top-30 individual finishes in three World Cup events.
“It was surprising last year, but not unexpected,” coach Dave Jarrett said. “He’s done a good job, and he’s gotten better on both sides coming into this season. He’s in a good place.”
Good earned his spot in these first World Cup events, his first such starts, thanks to a stellar summer.
“Mature beyond his age,” Bryan Fletcher said of Good, 19. “He put in a lot of hard work this summer and really impressed the athletes and coaches by performing at a pretty high level all summer long.
“Just the way he handles himself, he’s ready for the big hill in Ruka.”
That’s good. Ask someone who’s jumped from it: With the darkness, the cold and the wind, tackling that hill is no easy task.
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