Steamboat Springs This crop of U.S. Nordic combined World Cup competitors has been responsible for plenty of firsts for their program and nation, and on Saturday, they added another. Todd Lodwick, Bryan Fletcher, Taylor Fletcher and Billy Demong skied the United States’ first podium in a Nordic combined World Cup team event, racing from sixth to third place in an event in Schonach, Germany.
“It was for sure a team effort,” Lodwick said. “We were definitely all pulling for each other. We couldn’t ask for better teammates, coaches or staff. It all came together today.”
The finish is the best result from the U.S. team this season, and it took all four athletes. The team was in sixth place after the jumping round, thanks in part to big jumps from Bryan Fletcher and Demong.
Bryan Fletcher, a Steamboat Springs skier who won an individual World Cup event a year ago, led the team on the first of four 5-kilometer legs. He tagged off to brother Taylor Fletcher, who laid down a scorching time. He had the day’s fastest second-lap time, and pulled the squad into fourth.
“Bryan wanted to ski first, when the course was a little less chewed up. That’s better for his technique. Then Taylor caught up a bunch of seconds. ... It was amazing to see him just thrown down,” Lodwick said.
Lodwick, an Olympic silver medalist who earned his 29st World Cup podium Saturday, skied third. He said Schonach always has been special for him. He won World Cup events there in 2004 and 1998 and, in his very first competition on the circuit, placed eighth there in 1995.
On Saturday, he ditched a French skier he initially was paired with and pulled close the Austrians, who were skiing in third.
Demong, Olympic gold and silver medalist in 2010, then brought the squad home, laying down the day’s best anchor-leg time, passing the Austrians and securing the third-place finish.
“We couldn’t pick a better guy for the fourth leg,” Lodwick said. “How we played our tactics, how we picked our guys, really played into our favor.”
Norway was first after the jump and also had the best combined skiing time to win the event. The United States started 57 seconds behind the Norwegians and had the second-best overall skiing time. That pulled the squad into third place for the podium finish, passing Austria, France and Japan. Germany, fourth after the jump, moved from fourth to finish second.
Norway finished with a comfortable 48-second lead on Germany. The United States was 15 seconds back from Germany and 7 ahead of fourth-place Austria.
“Our team had the proper expectations going into the event and was ready to compete,” Taylor Fletcher said in a news release. “We all had good jumps on the hill, and Billy showed he can jump amazing whenever he wants. Everyone had very strong legs in the cross-country, with Bryan holding the time to the skiers in front, Todd moving up and giving Billy a good shot at the podium.”
The podium was the United States' best finish in a World Cup team event since Lodwick helped a team to a fourth-place finish in 2002. A team that included Lodwick and Demong was second at the 2010 Olympics to earn a silver medal.
After a slow start to the 2012-13 season, the U.S. Nordic combined squad started to resemble that team in a flash Saturday.
“Everyone has been working hard, keeping the faith and knowing this was just around the corner,” coach Dave Jarrett said in a release. “Now we have the ball rolling, and we intend to keep it rolling.”
World Cup action resumes Sunday in Germany with an individual event.
“We want to build on this confidence and carry into into" Sunday, Lodwick said. “Our goal is the World Championships, and being on the podium today is a huge motivation for all of us.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com