Steamboat Springs Nineteen-year-old Taylor Fletcher learned Thursday that he will spend February in Vancouver, British Columbia, representing his country and Steamboat Springs as the youngest member of the high-powered U.S. Nordic combined team.
Fletcher’s selection was greeted with cheers locally from his coaches and supporters.
“I’m ecstatic about the news,” said former Olympian Gary Crawford, who has coached Fletcher at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “He’s still a junior. … It shows that those younger guys are stepping up and starting to bridge the gap to the top tier.”
It also means that fans in Steamboat Springs will have another Olympic athlete to cheer for in 2010.
The fact that Nordic combined world champions Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong also were named to the squad Thursday didn’t come as a surprise. Lodwick and Spillane grew up in the shadows of Howelsen Hill, and Demong has strong ties to the community. The other member of the 2010 team is Park City, Utah, skier Brett Camerota, who will make his second Olympics appearance. He was named to the team based on his results this season.
USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt, together with the U.S. Olympic Committee and sponsor Visa, announced the final Nordic combined roster. The U.S. snowboarding team is expected to be announced Monday and the freestyle ski team Tuesday.
With Thursday’s announcement, Lodwick became just the third American to be named to five Winter Olympic teams. He also made Olympic appearances in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Mark Grimmette, who again will represent the U.S. in the luge, and bobsledder Brian Shimer are the only other athletes named to five Winter Olympic teams.
The 33-year-old Lodwick, who came out of retirement for the 2008-09 season, will look to add to his collection of medals. Last winter, he won two gold medals at the World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Spillane, who claimed a World Championship title in 2003 in Val di Fiemme, Italy, has been consistently strong this season and won his first World Cup earlier this month.
Demong is also a World Champion after claiming the gold and bronze last season in Liberec to add to a collection that includes a silver medal from the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, Japan. Spillane and Demong will make their fourth Olympic appearances.
There’s no question hopes are high for the U.S. team next month.
“It gives me goose bumps when I think about where we are sitting and what we could possibly achieve,” U.S. Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett said in a telephone news conference Thursday.
Lodwick, Demong and Spillane echoed their coach’s excitement about the upcoming Olympics, saying they are excited and confident about the team’s chances of bringing home the U.S.’s first Olympic medal in Nordic combined.
“With three individual contenders, it should be a lot of fun to play off of each other and help each other in the competitions,” Demong said. “In the team event, I know we have a strong and eager squad, so it will be great to match up against all the other big nations. I have high hopes for all three events.”
The team is in Park City training for next month’s Olympics. The team will fly to Steamboat Springs on Feb. 5 to take part in the Olympic Send-off and Community Celebration planned for downtown Steamboat Springs during the Winter Carnival.
For Crawford, the news that Fletcher made the team was a source of pride. Four of the five members of the squad have strong ties to Steamboat, and that means a lot to Crawford and the Winter Sports Club.
“The Nordic combined community is a tight group of athletes and supporters,” Crawford said. “Right now, the juniors in our program are looking at a guy like Taylor Fletcher and saying, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’”
Fletcher is preparing to compete in the Nordic combined Junior World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany, and was unavailable for comment.