US Nordic Combined Ski Team kicks off season

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Billy Demong

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Johnny Spillane

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Todd Lodwick

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U.S. Ski Team

Bryan Fletcher

— Talk to each member of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, and there are a lot of different ways to look at the 2011-12 season.

The schedule lacks the oomph of past seasons. There isn’t a World Championship or Olympic year to look to. Instead, there are 28 World Cup events spread throughout the next four months.

“We want to see Billy (Demong) and Johnny (Spillane) on the podium consistently in the World Cup,” coach Dave Jarrett said. “And Bryan (Fletcher) needs to follow through on his breakthrough season. We need to see more people getting points on the World Cup besides Billy, Johnny and Todd (Lodwick).”

That’s a good list of things to start with.

After a busy summer away from the snow, the Big Three — Demong, Spillane and Lodwick — return to the World Cup circuit this year intent on proving they still are three of the biggest and best skiers in the world. With 27 World Cups, there also is a chance to make some money.

Demong and Spillane will be on the first four trips. Lodwick said he’d do three, two-week runs with the team and spend the rest of the time with his family.

“I think this is my 19th year on the national team,” said Lodwick, who confirmed his plan is to ski through the 2014 Olympics and then retire at age 38. “I might be the old guy, but if you want a piece of the old guy, come and get it. I’m as competitive as they come. I want to win as bad as anyone out there.”

Jarrett said the focus should be for Demong and Spillane to resume their places at or near the podium.

He said there is some difficulty with it being a non-World Championship or Olympic year but that there are things that the two can focus on like an overall World Cup championship, something no American has done.

“It’s definitely something that would be an incredible achievement,” Spillane said. “It’s such a ridiculous commitment. But if somebody is in a position to do it, I’m sure they’ll go for it.”

For Fletcher, however, the season has more meaning even if there isn’t that year-end goal.

Fletcher burst onto the scene last season, registering multiple top 20 finishes and a career-best pair of eighth-place finishes.

Fletcher is out to prove that last season wasn’t an aberration but rather that the Big Three has a chance to become the Big Four.

“That’s the next step,” Fletcher said. “It’s to get in the top six and then the top three. Those are the results I’m hunting for this year. Hopefully, it’s more than one time.”

The team also should see younger team members such as Taylor Fletcher, Nick Hendrickson and Brett Denney get World Cup starts.

The team begins the season Friday and Saturday in Kuusamo, Finland.

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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