Steamboat skiers lead men’s US Nordic Combined Team to successful weekend
Fletcher has best finish in years as Malacinski makes World Cup debut
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Niklas Malacinski, a 17-year-old Nordic combined National Team member out of Steamboat Springs, made his World Cup debut last weekend in Italy.
“I think he crushed it,” said Team USA member Jasper Good, also from Steamboat. “He did probably one of the hardest World Cups on the circuit and absolutely destroyed it. It’s super awesome to see him bring his level, show up and not be daunted by everyone. He didn’t let the stage affect him.”
Malacinski had the 25th-best jump on Friday, putting him in a great position for the cross country race. His flight of 93 meters earned him 111.5 points, the most among all Team USA members.
“We’re doing everything we can to support him and keep him fired up so that he can continue to build at the rate he’s building,” said Team USA member Taylor Fletcher. “I think it’s very possible that in five, eight years, he could be one of the best in the world.”
Malacinski had a tougher time keeping up with the competition in the 10K cross country race. While he was the 25th athlete off the starting line, he finished in 41st. He said he wasn’t disappointed in his results Friday but knew his jump could have been better.
“I was a little shocked by how fast those guys actually were,” Malacinski said. “I knew they’d be fast, but I was expecting something I could grasp, but they were way ahead of me.”
The next day, in the team sprint, Malacinski had his best jump of the weekend, at 98 meters. When he landed the jump, he put a hand in the air and pumped his fist while smiling — an exuberant celebration for the otherwise quiet athlete.
Malacinski and Good took 15th in the team event while Fletcher and Ben Loomis combined to earn 12th.
Back home, Malacinki’s mom Essi Kenttala was up when the rest of Steamboat Springs was asleep, watching the event on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service. There was no commentary, so she turned on the commentary from her home country of Finland. Both Niklas and his older sister Annika spend a lot of time training in Finland each year, so the community is aware of their success in the sport.
“To hear them talk about how good a ski jumper he is and how he has potential to be one of the best,” Kenttala said, “they were impressed how he was able to focus being so young his first time in the World Cup. They were even talking about kidnapping him to the Finnish team.”
Kenttala said she was admittedly a little surprised at how well Malacinski did and is immensely proud of the effort he’s put into his sport.
“Niklas is a pretty incredible kid,” Kenttala said. “When he puts his mind into it, he will get it done.”
The rest of Team USA
Malacinki’s older teammates had a successful weekend in Val di Fiemme as well. With a 19th-place finish Friday, Fletcher had his best finish in two years. Using his speed on skis, he passed more than 20 people after starting the race in 42nd. On Sunday, Fletcher finished 36th.
After a few years in a lull, Fletcher has been finding enjoyment in the sport again. He considered retiring not long ago, but his newfound fire has him chasing the Olympics once more.
“Having a best result in a couple years is showing that what I’m doing and the plan I’ve been on is going in the right direction,” Fletcher said. “Again, it comes back to that confidence factor and taking it in stride every weekend. Some days aren’t going to go as well as you’d hope. … You can’t look at it like, “Ah that was a bad day.” You got to look at it like, “OK, what did I do right? What went right?” and take that and put it towards the next weekend and build on that.”
The team has scheduled competitions each weekend for the foreseeable future leading up to the World Ski Championships in Obsterdorf, Germany, in late February and early March.
Good joined the team in Europe after having a little more trouble crossing the Atlantic. Just days after arriving, Good finished 44th on Friday and 47th on Sunday.
“As far as my results last weekend, I don’t think there’s any of them that I’d like to hang my hat on per say,” Good said. “Considering I landed (at the airport) the day before, I showed some good things, I just didn’t put it all together at the same time.”
Good took longer to get to Europe because he has a few more hoops to jump through as part of the Army World Class Athlete Program. Both he and Loomis are part of the program.
In Italy, Loomis, of Wisconsin, earned 39th and 36th in the individual competitions.
“(I have) the ability and honor to represent both the Armed Forces and the U.S. Ski Team and Team USA,” Good said. “Another big thing is you have guaranteed support through the Olympics.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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