Fletcher earns 24th in normal hill as all American men finish in top 25 | SteamboatToday.com

Fletcher earns 24th in normal hill as all American men finish in top 25

Taylor Fletcher leads a pack of skiers in the men’s normal hill Nordic combined cross-country ski race at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Joel Reichenberger/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

The Olympic men’s normal hill competition was business as usual for Steamboat Springs Nordic combined athlete Taylor Fletcher.

He didn’t have the strongest jump on the HS106 but recorded one of the fastest times on the cross-country course in the 10K race, helping him to a 24th-place finish on Wednesday, Feb. 9, from the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre.

Fletcher’s 86.5 meter jump was the 34th best of 44 athletes. He and his coaches were visibly disappointed with the result, knowing he was capable of more.

Fletcher did something out of character and opted to skip the trial jump immediately before the competition jump.

“I started the trainings out on a pretty high note,” Fletcher said. “Since then, all my first jumps were my best jumps. They were super relaxed and easy going. Then I would try a little bit harder, try to get something a little bit better because, normally, my first jumps aren’t my best jumps. After the three trainings, I was frustrated because I couldn’t put two jumps together. We decided to take a chance and see how that would go if I were to skip trial and go into competition.”

The plan didn’t go as expected, and the 31-year old had the weakest jump of the American men, but he’s always been strongest on the cross-country course.

The four-time Olympian began the race 3 minutes, 19 seconds behind leader Ryota Yamamoto of Japan. Over a 10K distance, fast athletes can close a gap as large as a minute or more.

With 33 athletes ahead of him and nine of them within that time frame, Fletcher went to work.

A quarter of the way through the race, Fletcher had passed four people already. A little over halfway through, he was in 27th.

Through the final 1.5K stretch, he eclipsed three more competitors, crossing the line in 24th. His time of 24:31.9 was the sixth fastest among all the competitors. It was his best finish in an Olympic normal hill competition.

“I was a little bit shocked when I saw the time rank because I did not feel like I had a good race,” Fletcher said. “I don’t know if it was me being a little tired going in, not having a race since middle of January. I was having some issues breathing.

“Legs felt great, body felt great, but I was having issues really taking full breaths out there. So, it was hard for me to go. I think, more or less, it was me not being completely opened up and having race legs in me. But that’s a good thing because moving into these next events I feel confident that I’ll have a much better race.”

Fletcher had the third-best result of the American men. Ben Loomis of Wisconsin finished 15th, the best result for an American male ski jumper since 2010.

Jared Shumate of Park City used a jump of 93.5 meters to slingshot him into 19th place. He had the 24th-best jump and skied into 19th.

Stephen Schumann, also of Park City, finished 25th. It was the first time since 2010 that all four American men finished in the top 25.

Jasper Good of Steamboat Springs didn’t compete in the normal hill, but he should compete in the large hill event, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 1 a.m. MST.

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