Steamboat Springs’ Bryan Fletcher skied to a career-best 18th place Saturday in the second Nordic Combined World Cup event in Kuusamo, Finland.
Austrian veteran Felix Gottwald won an epic battle in the last kilometer against Norway’s Mikko Kokslien, breaking up a potential two-day sweep by defending World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Jason Lamy-Chappuis, of France, who was third.
The race was run in sub-zero temperatures, presenting significant challenges for the athletes, particularly in the cross-country ski portion of the event.
“It was brutally cold here today,” U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team head coach Dave Jarrett said. “Those guys came into the wax cabin almost in tears. The snow was squeaky. It was good classic conditions, but not for skating.”
Fletcher put himself into a good position with a 127-meter jump. He started the cross-county portion in 22nd, one minute and 21 seconds behind the leader. Lamy-Chappuis soared 140 meters on his jump to take a 15-second lead into the cross-country. Three Frenchmen were in the top five after the jump.
Starting a second behind Kokslien, Fletcher got off to a quick start, moving up two places within the first kilometer and holding around 20th through most of the race. He had enough in reserve at the end to gain two more spots and finish 18th overall.
Fletcher went out knowing that, with the exception of Gottwald, the race was entirely ahead of him.
“I had good training jumps and knew that I had the ability to jump well in the competition,” Fletcher said. “Jumping into 22nd gave me the opportunity. In the cross-country race, my strategy was simply to ski my own race. I was able to move up a few places throughout the race, and then in the finish, I saw an opportunity to pass a few guys, so I took advantage of it.”
For the second straight day, Olympic champion Billy Demong struggled in the jump, soaring 111 meters but finding himself 3:19 back in 38th to start the cross-country portion. He wound up 36th overall. Steamboat’s Taylor Fletcher was 39th.
“Collectively we’re not skiing on par,” Jarrett said. “We come into a long block of racing now. If the plan goes as we’re hoping, they’ll ski stronger in Lillehammer next weekend and be in good shape for Ramsau the following weekend.”
The World Cup heads to the Olympic village of Lillehammer, Norway, for a pair of events next weekend. The Continental Cup, meanwhile, heads next weekend to Steamboat Springs and Dec. 11 to 12 in Park City and Soldier Hollow, Utah.