Fletcher smokes field en route to gold medal

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Most of the skiers in the Junior Olympic Nordic combined race looked a tad uncomfortable Saturday skiing the cross-country course at Howelsen Hill.

But Steamboat Springs skier Taylor Fletcher looked right at home as he cruised around the 2.5-kilometer loop twice en route to an easy win in the final event of the 2005 Chevrolet Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Junior Olympics presented by Bareilla.

But after the race, Fletcher admitted that although it may have looked easy from the grandstands, it wasn't out on the course.

"It was tough," Fletcher said while waiting for the second-place skier to cross the finish line. "I just wanted to ski well and keep up a good tempo through the entire race. I was able to do it, and things turned out well."

So well, in fact, that Fletcher crossed the finish line 2 minutes, 33 seconds in front of second-place finisher Yuya Tanaka of Canada.

Teammate Charlie Stoddard, who jumped to seventh in the morning, moved into third place overall and second among the Americans at the end of the race.

It was the second-straight year that Fletcher and Stoddard have gone one-two in the Junior Olympic standings.

"I really wanted to win this race," Fletcher said. "It's a big deal, and I really wanted to defend my title."

Taylor's time of 12:43 was the fastest cross-country time of the day and more than enough to move past Trevor Morrice, who finished just ahead of Fletcher in the earlier Nordic combined jumping portion.

Despite the fact that Canadians competed in a guest class and would not factor into the official Junior Olympic results, Fletcher said he wanted to win the race outright.

Intermountain Division skier Buck Bailey joined Fletcher and Stoddard on the podium as the third-place American skier. He was fourth overall.

Tanaka, who was second overall, won the guest class. Morrice was fifth overall and second in the guest class, and Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes was sixth overall and third in the guest class.

Elisabeth Anderson, of the Central Division, won the girls Nordic combined title. She was third overall.

"It feels really good," Anderson said. "But I'm glad it's over."

Anderson said the altitude was a factor for her in the cross-country race, and she wasn't comfortable on the rolling terrain.

"The courses are a little flatter back home," Anderson said.

Eastern Division skier Tara Geraghty-Moats was second and Ariel Picton was third among the American finishers.

Katie Willis, who was the top jumper in the morning, also topped the Nordic combined results in the guest class. She finished 1:40 in front of teammate Atsuko Tanaka, who was second in the guest class. Nata De Leeuw was third in the guest class.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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