Fletcher the fastest in the world as US Nordic combined men take sixth in team event
Going into the cross-country portion of the Olympic large hill team event, the United States Nordic combined men were in seventh. Four fast performances from the Americans helped them to take sixth of 10 teams on Thursday, Feb. 17, from the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre.
Taylor Fletcher, the veteran on the team, stood on the start line first for the American men. The 31-year-old Steamboat Springs-born skier is not only the fastest on the team, but one of the fastest in the world.
He took off one minute and 58 seconds behind the leader from Austria, and 22 seconds behind the Czech Republic. After one lap, or 2.5 kilometers, Fletcher came across the line in sixth, just in front of the Czech competitor. One lap later, Fletcher entered the exchange zone neck-and-neck with fifth-place France. He touched the back of Ben Loomis, stopping his split time at 12:16. That was the fastest first leg of the relay and ended up being the fastest anyone skied their leg all evening in the 4×5 relay.
Fletcher, who expects Beijing 2022 to be his final Olympics and has had his best results at a Winter Games, took 24th in the normal hill and 23rd in the large hill. Fletcher hasn’t decided when he’ll retire, but doesn’t see himself still competing in four years.
“I think it’ll be a big change,” said teammate Jasper Good, who also hails from Steamboat Springs. “Every single one of us on the team has only ever known our team with him, so it’ll be a big change, but it’s really cool to see him have one of his best seasons in a while. He’s been having a blast, it looks like.”
Fletcher was able to have an “athlete moment” after the race, seeing his mother Penny, his stepfather Fred Fuller, and some family members on video. He was very emotional after the race concluded, as it also marked the end of his Olympic career.
“It’s always a challenge when you’re wrapping up your Olympic career,” Fletcher said. “The team event is a special way to do it for sure. It brought a lot of joy to me and a lot of emotions. … It was a special moment for sure. It’s crazy to think that 2010 was my first Olympics and now 2022 is my last.”
Loomis, who had the best jump of the Americans, stayed alongside France for his whole time on the cross-country course and passed off to Good.
The France skier started building a small advantage on Good through their first lap on the course. The two-time Olympian came into the exchange zone in seventh, not far behind France and Finland, and barely ahead of the Czech Republic.
Jared Shumate hit the course next. He flew past Finland and fought to hold off the Czech Republic on the anchor leg of the relay.
Shumate has had an incredible couple weeks in Beijing, earning a pair of top-20 finishes in the individual events and has proven to be one of the speediest skiers.
Shumate was only a hair ahead of the Czech Republic skier going into the finish, where France finished fifth just seven seconds ahead of the United States.
Sixth place matches how the United States performed in the team event eight years ago in Sochi. Fletcher is the only one still competing from that team.
“I think it was a pretty solid day for our team overall,” Good said. “I think sixth place is certainly better than any team results we’ve had at a championship since I’ve been on the team. It was one of our goals to get top six, so that’s exciting. We were in the fight for fifth, which is cool and I think we all put down pretty solid days, which is good to see for the team.”
Closing the gap to fourth would have been near miraculous. The top four teams, Austria, Germany, Japan and Norway, were together through most of the race and had about a minute advantage on the rest of the racers. Austria started with a lead, but ended up in fourth, while Norway won gold and was joined by Germany and Japan on the podium.
“What we’ve been able to achieve while we’re here is really special. I definitely think we’re a team that’s going to get better and better,” Fletcher said. “I hope to see it grow in the U.S. and with USA Nordic, I hope we continue to get the support that is desperately needed because I do think these guys have a chance to get medals in 2026.”
That concludes the Nordic combined Olympic events, so Fletcher, Good and the whole team will return to Park City, Utah, to spend some time in the states before returning to Europe to conclude the World Cup season.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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