Juniors off to good start

Steamboat skiers give impressive performances at Junior Olympic qualifier

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— Bryan Fletcher of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has begun establishing himself as one of the best young Nordic skiers in the Rocky Mountain Division and perhaps in the nation.

Fletcher, 15, easily won special jumping and Nordic combined competitions in Winter Park Saturday. He'll be the favorite again this Saturday, when Howelsen Hill hosts the second Junior Olympic qualifying meet for skiers 14-15 in the J2 division of the U.S. Ski Association.

"Bryan is having a fantastic year," Winter Sports Club Nordic Program Director Todd Wilson said. "It's been a pleasant surprise. We thought he needed another year of (physical) maturity. But Bryan's one of those kids who is just really dedicated."

The Nordic skiers will use their top two scores from three J.O. qualifiers this winter to make the Junior Olympic team that will compete in Coleraine, Minn., in March. If Fletcher turns in a similar performance at Howelsen Saturday, he'll have a lock on making the team.

The competition begins Friday night with the youngest jumping classes, followed by jumping for the older athletes on the K114 hill Saturday morning and a cross country race in the afternoon.

Steamboat swept the top four spots in J2 special jumping on the K60 jump at Winter Park. Fletcher totaled 216.1 points to defeat teammate Paul Berry with 191.7. Fletcher also turned in the long jump of the day at 60 meters.

Fletcher's jumping scores gave him a lead of 1 minute, 40 seconds in the cross country phase, but he pulled away from the field anyway, turning in the fastest time of the day in a 6 kilometer race at 17 minutes, 8 seconds. Andy Garber placed second in the J2 Nordic combined meet and Berry was third. Andreas Aalbu, a younger J4 skier, placed fourth in both J2 special jumping and in the combined meet.

Davis Miller, 16, captured both the J1 special jumping and Nordic combined for Steamboat. His brother Alex, also 16, placed second in both competitions.

Berry won the J3 jumping on the K38 hill followed by Aalbu and Taylor Fletcher. Taylor Fletcher won the J4 special jumping on the K25 hill followed by Aalbu, Charlie Stoddard and Brett Denny in fourth. Other Steamboat skiers in the top 10 (in order of finish) included Ian Noble, Kyle Steitz, Adam Peters, Luke Anderson and Cliff Field.

Sam Chovan came from seventh place in J3 ski jumping to win his class in Nordic combined.

Stoddard improved on his third place in J4 special jumping with a win in the combined event. Steitz was second.

Field impressed Wilson by winning the J5 competition.

"He's a kid who has really surprised us," the coach said.

Anderson was second in J5, followed by Patrick Weston and Shaquille Torruella.

"Shaq has really picked it up a notch this year," Wilson said.

Zeb Tipton placed first in the J6 jumping meet.

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