Steamboat US Ski Team members tired, happy at the conclusion of 2021 Men’s Nordic combined season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mere minutes after touching down in the United States after three months in Europe, Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Niklas Malacinski got a burger. Upon arriving back home in Colorado, the 17-year-old met family friends at the airport, sat down and ate a classic, American, greasy burger.
Next on the agenda: rest. Malacinski will spend the next week or two relaxing and recovering after a long season of skiing.
“I think it was needed to come home. I’ve had a long and successful season. I think it’s best to come home and rest up.”
Malacinski’s season wrapped up in Nizhny Tagil, Russia last weekend, where he earned a high finish of 18th in the final Continental Cup Event. Malacinski finished 12th in the Continental Cup standings, the highest American in the standings.
He podiumed at Park City to start the season in December, earning him a spot in the Val di Fiemme World Cup events in Italy. He finished 41st and 44th in the individual events, not bad for such a young competitor. He also cracked the top 10 in another Continental Cup event in Finland ahead of the World Junior Championships in Lahti, Finland. World Juniors was his main goal all year, but he unfortunately was disqualified.
“At first, it definitely came as a surprise, my first break through,” Malacinski said. “I was surprised with results in Park City that got me to the world cup in Italy. My main focus this season was junior worlds, which unfortunately I was disqualified. That didn’t play out too well, but I still have two years left of Junior Worlds.”
Malacinski was also named to the World Championships team where he helped the U.S. men take ninth in the team event in Germany.
“He’s a very tired boy. He was impressive this whole winter,” said U.S. Ski Team member and Steamboat native Taylor Fletcher. “To be 17 years old, he went in every weekend and was consistently fighting for good results on Continental Cup. He has that fire and that drive which is very cool to see. He definitely started to challenge some of the other kids on the team.”
Next year, Malacinski has the same goals in mind. Improve on the Continental Cup, maybe get a World Cup start, and focus on Junior Worlds. However, he does have one goal in 2022 that he’s not ready to deem unrealistic, yet.
“I’ve been dreaming of getting to the Olympics.”
The Olympic team will be announced in January ahead of the games that are scheduled to begin February 4 in Beijing. Malacinski has tons of big competitors ahead of him in line for the team. Fletcher is likely a shoe-in, as is Steamboat’s own Jasper Good, both of which attended the 2018 Olympics. Ben Loomis of Wisconsin also attended the last Olympics and Jared Shumate, Grant Andrews and Stephen Schumann will all be battling for spots on the Olympic team next Winter.
At 30, Fletcher is a little older than the rest of the team. He’s the veteran of the group and has seen highs and lows of the sport since starting his career on Howelsen Hill.
This past season offered a glimpse into the past of American Nordic combined, as well as the future. Seeing his teammates have such successful seasons reminded him of when he was younger and looking up the “wolfpack” of Johnny Spillane, Billy Demong, Carl Van Loan, Jed Hinkley.
“They all worked together and pushed each other on a year-to-year basis,” Fletcher said. “We lost a fair amount of people, but now what we’re seeing is a new emergence of a group coming: Grant, Jasper, Jared, Niklas and a few others. They’re going to be around for a while. I don’t see any of them pulling the plug in the next four years. We still have a lot of work to do on the jumping hill, but I saw progress this year and that’s promising.”
Fletcher saw a change in himself too as he started having fun again and gaining confidence. He’s already one of the fastest cross country skiers in the world, taking ninth in the best skier trophy standings of the World Cup. He has one more competition this weekend in Klingenthal, Germany, but sits in 38th overall heading into those events.
After that, he’ll head home to Park City, relax, give his body a break, hopefully get vaccinated, then get back into training in mid-April.
“My focus is really on the jumping side,” Fletcher said. “I’m going to work closely with Chris Gilbertson to get to where I need to get to.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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