Youth represents in Utah |

Youth represents in Utah

Fletcher just short as U.S. skiers show well

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

— Taylor Fletcher nearly stole the race, but it was younger United States skiers who stole the show Saturday, the second day of Continental Cup Nordic combined competition in Park City, Utah.

Fletcher stormed from 19th place to within about an inch of the lead in the 10-kilometer cross country ski race. He finished second, 0.1 seconds behind David Pommer, the Austrian who won in Utah for the second consecutive day.

It wasn’t all about Fletcher, however. The U.S. had three more skiers packed inside the top eight, making it a strong day all around.

Ben Loomis finished fourth. Michael Ward was sixth, and Ben Berend was eighth.

“It was spectacular,” said Loomis, 17 years old and still a relative newcomer to Continental Cup races.

Loomis turned one of the day’s best jumps into perhaps the best day of his young career. It was his eighth race in the Continental Cup, the circuit just below the World Cup. He was good Friday, placing 16th in the first of the weekend’s three Utah races, but prior to that had an average finish of 31st.

Saturday, he leapt to third place in the jumping portion, surprising even himself, he said. As many of the best jumpers fell away and many of the best skiers caught up, he simply maintained his place.

“It was my best finish, by far,” he said. “I tried to keep pace really steady, then kick it on the last lap, and that worked out pretty well.”

Ward, who jumped to 20th, simply did his best to stick behind Fletcher. That worked for about a lap, until Fletcher hit the gas, but Ward didn’t simply fall off. He finished with the third-fastest ski time and passed more than a dozen competitors.

Berend, meanwhile, followed a path similar to Loomis’s, jumping very well into fourth, then hanging on.

“I tried to ski my own race, my own pace,” Ward said. “Luckily, I felt good enough to pull people in.”

Jasper Good finished 18th, moving up with the seventh-best ski time. Stephen Schumann was 27th, and Somer Schrock 33rd. Decker Dean, meanwhile, was 38th, racing in his first Continental Cup event.

Fletcher gave them all something to “wow” about.

He had a lackluster jump and pointed to the wind — or lack thereof — in a crucial moment as an explanation. He made up for it in the race.

He passed a few racers early, eating into the 1 minute, 40 second gap he started with behind the leaders. Soon, he was passing packs of skiers as he went around and around the 2K circuit at Solider Hallow course.

Pommer had himself tracked down the front of the race, then, on the third lap, pushed way out in front on his own. By the fourth lap, Fletcher was working on tracking him down.

“It was pretty much the best race I could have,” Fletcher said.

The gap was down to eight seconds as the fifth and final lap started, and Fletcher cut into that. It was down to two seconds as they came out of the woods, 200 meters from the finish, and Fletcher cut into that, too.

Finally, Pommer and Fletcher charged toward the finish line. They were nearly side-by-side, but not quite.

“It was close,” he said. “I just ran out of lane. It was 0.1 seconds. That’s as close as it can get. Any closer, and it would have been a tie.”

He and the rest of the U.S. skiers will be back at it Sunday in the final day of Continental Cup competition in the United States.

“I’ll strive to be a little better with my jump,” Fletcher said, “I like racing fast, but I like racing fast and winning by a good amount.”

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

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