Steamboat Springs Lingering questions remained after February’s historic U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team performance at the 2010 Olympics.
It was clear the Americans featured three of the best Nordic combined skiers on the planet in Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane.
Brett Camerota did his part in Vancouver, British Columbia, filling in as the fourth skier in the team event.
But what is in line after that, and can the Americans remain relevant in the sport for years to come? The answer is starting to reveal itself as the 2010-11 season approaches, thanks to a pair of brothers from Steamboat Springs.
With Spillane still recovering from a knee injury and Lodwick spending the first portion of the season doing Continental Cups in the U.S., Bryan and Taylor Fletcher will ski for the Americans in the first part of the World Cup A season.
Taylor, who got a taste of the Olympics as the fifth member of the team, and Bryan, who just missed the Olympic team, each will get starts when the World Cup season begins Nov. 26 in Kuusamo, Finland.
“I think finally we’ve bridged that gap up to those guys a little bit more,” Bryan said Thursday after a workout in Park City, Utah. “We want to be on par with them and help those guys out in trying to achieve their goals. If we’re on par with them, we can achieve those same goals. Kuusamo is a big opportunity for me, Taylor and Brett (Camerota) to go over and kick some (butt) and score some points.”
Summer of work
Each of the Fletchers spent the post-Olympic offseason focusing on what he could do to better his chances this year.
Each lost weight to improve his jumping and attended camps in Steamboat, Park City and Europe.
Most of the young guys competed in the summer Grand Prix in Germany that featured most of the top countries. Taylor’s best finish was 14th, and Bryan’s was 18th.
Now, the focus is on getting into the top 50 in the world rankings so they can continue on the World Cup circuit. Bryan is 53rd, and Taylor is 56th.
“I’m skiing extremely well,” Taylor said. “My jumping has gotten much, much better, and my cross-country is at an unbelievable level right now.”
With the World Championships holding special significance this year because of the venue — Oslo, Norway — both Fletchers hope to make the team for the late-February event.
Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett said he’s been impressed with the development of each Fletcher and said that this early part of the season would allow them to prove themselves on a big stage.
“We want them to continue on the path and on the trajectory Bill, Johnny and Todd did at their age,” Jarrett said. “I think if they can go to Kuusomo and Lillehammer (the second World Cup, in Norway) and get in the top 30 or top 20, that would be a big accomplishment. You never know at the beginning of the year how everybody else is.”
Depth starting to show
When the World Championships take place, the Americans will have five spots because they are the defending champions in the two individual events.
Assuming Demong, Lodwick and Spillane are healthy, they’ll almost assuredly get three of those spots.
Brett and Eric Camerota, Brett Denney and Nick Hendrickson all will battle with the Fletchers for those final two spots.
Jarrett said he couldn’t remember in his time with the U.S. team when there was this much quality depth. He pointed to the Olympics and Brett Camerota’s contribution in helping win a silver medal in the team event. He said that doesn’t happen without all the other guys pushing him.
Jarrett said coming off summer, Taylor might be the fastest skier on the U.S. team, and Bryan has shown the ability to consistently score points.
All this, Jarrett said, should add up to a good showing during the World Cup season and at the World Championships.
“We just need to continue with this,” Jarrett said. “Taylor, Nick and Bryan made huge steps. We want them challenging Bill, Johnny and Todd. In the past, it’s definitely been a big gap. It was Todd, Bill and Johnny and the rest of the group. You could argue that Taylor is the fastest guy on the team from the summer. We’re expecting big things from all those guys this year.”