Steamboat Springs There's just nothing like the feeling of climbing up on a podium at an elite event, U.S. Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher said Sunday.
“I don’t think the feeling will ever get old,” he said by telephone from Italy. “It grabs you and takes hold of you. It’s just really emotional.”
On Sunday, the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team got to embrace that feeling and those emotions when it earned a spot on the podium in one of the premier events in the sport, finishing third in the Nordic Combined World Championships team relay Gundersen event in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Steamboat Springs skiers Taylor Fletcher, Bryan Fletcher, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong teamed up, using a blazing time on the ski course to turn a fifth-place performance in the jumping portion into World Championship bronze.
Olympic gold medalist Demong anchored the effort, leading much of the final leg and charging to the finish line 4.2 seconds behind France and 3.8 second back of second-place Norway.
He held off Japan, fourth, and Austria, fifth, both of which were packed into a group and finished within 7.6 seconds of the French.
“Going into the last leg I had a goal to just ski a smart race and not lead it all,” Demong said in a U.S. Ski Team news release. “I ended up leading almost the whole thing. In the end I was a little unsure if the other guys were really going to be fresh, and coming down the last hill I’m like, ‘Don’t look back, you don’t want to know. Just keep chasing Magnus (Moan, of Norway) and Jason (Lamy Chappuis, of France).’
"So I think it was really a relief to come within 5 meters of the finish line and just glance and say, ‘OK, yeah, we’ve got this.’”
Bryan Fletcher led the team on the jumping hill, and the squad got a big boost when Taylor Fletcher was able to take advantage of a re-jump, bettering his distance by 14 meters.
Taylor Fletcher then led the team out of the gate on the ski course, quickly closing the gap to the leaders.
“That was our strategy, to put Taylor first and have him go as hard as he could to close as much time between the front and us,” coach Dave Jarrett said in the release.
Bryan Fletcher followed and gave off to Lodwick, who kept it up and set up Demong.
Taylor Fletcher and Demong put down the fastest times of their legs while Bryan Fletcher and Lodwick each had top-four times.
“We all put down a solid effort on the race course — we hung tough,” Taylor Fletcher said. “Bill came through on the end with a good sprint to take third.”
The team will try to increase its medal haul at the World Championships on Thursday when action resumes with the large hill competition.
“I’ve put my whole life into this sport, and for me, it’s very gratifying,” Bryan Fletcher said. “Nordic combined is one of the most gratifying sports you can do. You put in so much work on all fronts and when it pays off, when you prove to yourself you can do it, it's the most rewarding feeling. I’m very happy to see our hard work paying off and I’m really excited looking forward knowing how our team can step up.”
Sunday's bronze comes just three years after the team made U.S. history by winning team and individual medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia. This weekend's World Championships also mark the 10-year anniversary of Johnny Spillane's historic gold-medal performance in an individual Nordic combined competition at the World Championships, which also were held in Val di Fiemme, Italy, that year.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com