Steamboat Springs’ Bryan Fletcher reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup competition Saturday in Oslo, Norway.

Erlend Aas / Reuters

Steamboat Springs’ Bryan Fletcher reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup competition Saturday in Oslo, Norway.

Steamboat's Bryan Fletcher wins Nordic Combined World Cup

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Margo Christiansen / USSA

Bryan Fletcher leads the pack en route to his first World Cup win at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway, taking the prestigious King's Cup — the most noted prized in his sport.

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U.S. Ski Team

Steamboat's Bryan Fletcher, center, celebrates his win Saturday in the prestigious Holmenkollen Ski Festival Nordic Combined World Cup in Oslo, Norway. It was Fletcher's first career World Cup win, and it came on the one of his sport's biggest stages.

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team World Cup wins

1968: John Bower, Oslo, Norway*

1983: Kerry Lynch, Oslo

1983: Lynch, Seefeld, Austria

1995: Todd Lodwick, Steamboat Springs

1998: Lodwick, Schonach, Germany

1998: Lodwick, Oslo

2001: Lodwick, Steamboat Springs

2001: Lodwick, Lillehammer, Norway

2004: Lodwick, Schonach

2009: Billy Demong, Oslo

2009: Johnny Spillane, Oberhof, Germany

2012: Bryan Fletcher, Oslo

*The Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo did not join the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup circuit until 1983.

— You don’t just wake up one day and win a World Cup out of the blue, U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Bryan Fletcher explained Saturday.

In fact, you don’t even wake up one day and dream of winning a World Cup.

Fletcher said that as a child, he dreamed of making the U.S. Ski Team. As a young teenager, he dreamed of competing in World Cups. And as member of the U.S. Ski Team, he dreamed of placing well in the event.

Only after a breakthrough season, in which he placed as high as fourth in World Cup events and consistently landed in the top 10, was he finally able to dream of winning a World Cup, and only after the years of work, sacrifice and help from friends and family was he able to realize the dream.

Steamboat Springs’ native son Fletcher soared to his first World Cup victory Saturday in Oslo, Norway, winning the biggest World Cup of the year at the jumps at Holmenkollen.

“It was unbelievable,” Fletcher said about finally climbing to the top of the podium. “It’s just a testament to everything everyone always says about hard work paying off. Everyone from Steamboat, they believed in me. They supported me. This has truly been an unbelievable experience.”

It proved so unbelievable that hours after the race, Fletcher said there still was a surreal tint to his world.

That may have had something to do with the way the day unfolded: calls from friends and family, congratulations from teammates and competitors and even a meeting with Harald V, the king of Norway.

It also may have had something to do with the race, an oxygen-devouring test of wills that drew from Fletcher everything he had.

He sat in third place after the morning’s jump, behind Japan’s Taihei Kato and Germany’s Eric Frenzel. Frenzel quickly fell off the pace in the 15-kilometer cross-country ski race, and Fletcher and two other racers soon pulled even with Kato. The group managed to maintain a gap on the rest of the field, and as they pulled close to the stadium on the final lap, Fletcher charged.

“We were coming around the corner and into the stadium, and it was a sprint, me against Kato,” Fletcher said. “At one point, I thought he would beat me, but I just kept saying in my head, ‘A little bit longer. Push a little bit longer.’

“Eventually, I was able to pull away a little bit. I was exhausted but so excited. I just sprinted with everything I had. I went for the win.”

Mikko Kokslien, of Norway, pulled into second place, finishing 2.3 seconds back, and Kato was third, 4.4 behind.

Fletcher crossed the finish line with a wide grin and a pump of the fist and collapsed. Teammate Billy Demong, fourth overall after skiing up from a 12th-place start, fell to the ground with him. Johnny Spillane wasn’t far behind, finishing 16th, and the group began celebrating a huge day for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team.

Fletcher became only the fifth American to win a World Cup and the fourth to win the King’s Cup, joining Demong, 2009, Kerry Lynch, 1983, and John Bower, 1968, on that list.

Dreaming big

At 3 years old, Fletcher was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He said that his early days of Nordic combined helped keep his mind off chemotherapy treatments and that, in the process, he fell in love with the sport. On Saturday, he took the biggest step yet on that journey.

“I grew up in Steamboat, and like a lot of kids are doing there now, I dreamed of being one of those athletes,” Fletcher said. “Once I got to that level where I could see myself on the team, I started dreaming larger, and when you make the team and your peers are these tremendous athletes, you always looked up to like Billy and Johnny. It’s just amazing. It wasn’t even two years ago I was dreaming of just being in their shoes.

“Now, to come to such a historic event, to meet the king and achieve such a tremendous first podium, I’m just beside myself to win.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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