Joel Reichenberger: The day I ruined the race |

Joel Reichenberger: The day I ruined the race

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher cuts hard around a corner Saturday as he tries to chase down the leaders in a Continental Cup race in Park City, Utah. Fletcher came close to achieving that, but was just short, edged at the line to finish second. It was his second podium in as many days at the Continental Cup, and he was joined in the top 10 by three other young U.S. skiers.
Joel Reichenberger

The feeling you get when you, a bystander, an observer, ruin an international ski event is a sickening one — a crawl-in-a-hole, take-me-back-to-Steamboat nauseous feeling.

How do I know? Saturday I lived it.

It started as an innocent enough encounter, me just trying to get a good photo at the Continental Cup Nordic combined race at Soldier Hollow, Utah.

Just how easy or difficult that task can be at a winter sports event depends on the event, and which side of a stark line of access it falls upon.

On one side of it, in my experience, are events like the Olympics, the Alpine Skiing World Championships, World Cup races and the X Games.

Photographing those events is like being stuck on a bad ride at an amusement park. There are very few choices to be made, very strict places you can go and plenty of people around to slap you on the wrist if you get creative.

The entire rest of the world of snowsports competition is on the other side of that line, which is to say a photographer can get pretty much anywhere at pretty much any time.

Had I brought my spandex on Saturday and lined up at the right time, for instance, there’s a fair chance I could have raced.

So, I wandered, and eventually, I found a really sweet spot. Inspired by United States Ski and Snowboard Association communications head Tom Kelly, I found a corner where skiers were making big cuts to stay on course, and I crept up to it with a wide-angle lens.

Skier after skier zipped by, and I got shots of them blasting through the snow, cutting hard and struggling to stay upright in the rutted out, icy corner.

Then I saw Taylor Fletcher headed my direction.

Fletcher was the big fish in the race, at least for the United States.

There were all sorts of reasons the team was hoping he’d do well, and I had my reasons, too. In eight years as a sports reporter in Steamboat Springs, I’d seen Fletcher compete in an actual on-snow Nordic combined race exactly three times, and I had to travel to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics for all three.

I knelt down in the snow, and I crept forward, just a little further. He got closer, and he began to make the sharp swing around the corner.

I braced for that rare shot — a Fletcher in his natural environment.

But then something seemed wrong. I hadn’t taken into account that Fletcher may not ski the corner like everyone else.

Of course he wouldn’t. He’s one of the fastest Nordic combined skiers in the world, and he was trying to make up ground in the race, so where as most skiers cut wide, he cut it tight, way tighter than anyone else.

Suddenly, he was barreling almost right at me, and he shouted.


He flew by, maybe a foot from my lens.

Oh my God. What did he yell?

I got in the way, right?

He had to have shouted “IN THE WAY, JOEL!”

It could have been “MOVE IT, JOEL!”

Maybe it was “YOU IDIOT, JOEL!”

My jaw dropped, and I sulked away. Maybe there’s a reason they don’t let me wander at the Olympics. I plodded toward the finish line but stopped taking photos. I’d already done enough damage, hadn’t I?

It somehow got worse, too. Fletcher came in for that finish, and he lost, but just barely. He was 0.1 seconds behind the winner. That’s exactly how much time you might lose if you have to ski around a photographer, isn’t it?

His coaches, teammates, friends and family all waited near the finish line, as well, and as soon he caught his breath, they and everyone else in earshot would know what happened.

I’d ruined the race.

He collapsed to the ground after finishing but soon moved to a nearby bench. I took a big gulp and started in to confront this head on, to get the apologies over with.

I walked up and started to say sincerely, “Taylor, I’m so sorry. I’m beyond embarrassed.”

In a moment, though, his face switched from exhausted to confused.


“When you yelled,” I said. “I’m so, so sorry I was in the way.”

“Oh,” he said, exhaustion and confusion turning to a smile. “That’s not what I said. I shouted, ‘ACTION SHOT, JOEL!'”

OOOHHHH. Action shot? That, I got.

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

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