Steamboat Springs The Winter Olympic Games are still two years away, but Steamboat skiers Taylor Fletcher and Brett Denney have already found success in British Columbia.
Both gave strong performances at last weekend's North American Junior Championships, held at the Whistler Olympic Park, 20 kilometers south of Whistler, B.C., in the Callaghan Valley Nordic venue. It's no secret that both young men would love to ski at Whistler again in the 2010 Winter Olympics, but they have a few other things they would like to take care of first.
"I wanted to return to the North American Junior Championships to defend the title I won last year," Fletcher said. "I also wanted to make sure that I qualified for Junior Worlds."
Fletcher accomplished both goals and said he wasn't too worried about qualifying for the FIS Junior World Championships in Szczyrk, Poland, Feb. 3-10.
Fletcher secured his place last weekend by winning the Nordic combined event at the North American Juniors. It was Fletcher's second straight North American Junior title. The 2010 Olympic Nordic combined and ski jumping events will be held at the Callaghan venue. Intermountain skier Nick Hendrickson placed second, Canadian Wes Savill was third and Denney was fourth - third among American skiers.
Based on the results, and those from another Junior World Championship qualifier held in Lake Placid on Dec. 29, both Fletcher and Denney were named to the American team that will compete at the Junior World Championships along with two other Nordic combined skiers. Hendrickson and Daniel Englund from Iron Mountain, Mich., also will make the trip to Poland. Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club ability coach Martin Bayer has been named as coach of the team.
"It was a major goal at the start of this season to get on that team," Fletcher said. "Poland will be a very good experience - and I still don't have a lot of international experience."
The two Steamboat jumpers also performed well in the first Junior World Championships qualifier, which was held in Lake Placid last December. Fletcher also was first in that event and Denney was third.
"It's exciting," Denney said of qualifying. "This is my first trip to the Junior Worlds."
Denney said qualifying was even more special because he got sick last season and failed to qualify.
"I started working hard last summer, and this season," Denney said. 'I just tried not to get down on myself and to keep positive."
The hard work has paid off with top results this season, including top finishes in Canada last week.
The second Junior World qualifier was part of three days of ski jumping at the new Olympic venue in Canada. The competition included two Nordic combined events and a special jumping event.
As part of the events, Fletcher, Denny and Cliff Field also competed in the Canadian National Championships, held Jan. 4 at the new Olympic complex. Fletcher won the event and was followed by Canadian Wes Savill. Eastern division skier Alex Madden was third, Hendrickson was fourth and Field placed fifth. Brett Denney placed sixth in the event, which included one jump on the large hill and the 5-kilometer cross-country race.
"This was a good trip for our skiers," Bayer said. "I don't think that we had our best jumping, but both skiers were strong on the cross-country course and that's important."
Bayer said Fletcher and Denney continue to prepare for the championships. This weekend they will be in the field of top skiers competing in a Rocky Mountain Division junior Olympic qualifier in Steamboat Springs. The Nordic combined athletes also are scheduled to travel to Park City, Utah, for a meet on Jan 25 to 26 and will leave for Poland on Jan. 30. Once there, the American juniors will get the chance to compete in a World Cup B event before taking a shot at a world title in Poland the first week of February.
"I'm hoping to be the first non-U.S. Ski Team skier to score points in a World Cup B since 1998," Fletcher said. "But really, the only things I'm focused on are skiing and jumping well."
Fletcher said he owes a huge 'thank you' to the Over-the-Hill Gang and Birgetta Lindgren at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center. They provided scholarships that have helped Fletcher purchase the equipment he needed to compete this season, and to make the trip to Poland.