Nordic combined skiers, ski jumpers come up with big performances around the globe | SteamboatToday.com

Nordic combined skiers, ski jumpers come up with big performances around the globe

Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Ben Berend jumps at Howelsen Hill last month during a Continental Cup competition. Berend recorded some of his best results of the season through the weekend at another Continental Cup in Finland.

The "will they or won't they" questions lingered so long this winter for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team athletes even Ross and Rachel may have told them to figure it out already.

Yes, all five team members that qualified for the Olympics were at least alive when Friends was on, though only four of five were alive when Ross and Rachel took a break.

Through parts of November, December and January the makeup of that team — or if there'd even be enough qualified athletes to term it a "team” — remained unclear.

The envisioned results never really came, and when the skiers for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, were selected last month, only one, Bryan Fletcher, had actually scored a point on the World Cup.

That didn't stop a heap of U.S. athletes from making the team, mostly on the strength of Continental Cup finishes. 

Five skiers made the squad, including four from Steamboat Springs.

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Once that domineering Olympic-qualifying pressure was removed; however, the team has soared, scoring some of its top results of the winter in the last week, many of those athletes having gone on to score exactly the kind of results that would have relieved so much pressure a month ago.

Berend breaks through on World Cup

Steamboat Springs skier Ben Berend, the last man to make the Olympic field, recorded the best result of his career Saturday, finishing 23rd in a World Cup event in Hakuba, Japan, site of the ski jumping and Nordic combined for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Berend jumped to 16th place and, while he lost ground in the cross-country ski race, still was fast enough to record the first top-30 — thus the first World Cup point scoring — finish of his career.

His previous best this season was 45th, and his career best was 32nd.

He was 31st a day later when Eau Claire, Wisconsin's Adam Loomis, who also trained in Steamboat, shined. It won't get Loomis on the Olympic team, but his 24th-place finish was the best of his career.

Fletchers dominate in Slovenia

The story was similar last week in Seefeld, Austria, for Steamboat's Taylor Fletcher.

After months of disappointment chasing a top-30 World Cup finish that would have secured his place on his third Olympic team, he finally locked up that spot with a third-place finish in a Continental Cup event. 

Last week in Austria, he got those World Cup points, too, placing 28th.

He and his older brother Bryan Fletcher both underscored their strong recent skiing with dominating performances at a Continental Cup in Slovenia.

Bryan Fletcher won both days of the event, and he was joined on the podium both days by Taylor Fletcher, second the first day and third the second.

Bryan Fletcher won the first day's race by 59.4 seconds and the second by 39.7.

The wins were the first on the circuit for him, though he's only raced on Continental Cup a dozen times and not since 2010.

Taylor Fletcher skied up onto the podium from a 15th-place jump one day and a 14th-place jump the next.

Steamboat's Jasper Good, having qualified for his first Olympics, was also strong in the Slovenian races, placing eighth and 17th. Grant Andrews, another Steamboat skier, had his best Continental Cup result Sunday with a 22nd-place finish.

Loomis strikes for podium at Junior Worlds

Elsewhere, Ben Loomis, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic five and the only one without direct ties to Steamboat — he grew up jumping in Wisconsin and now trains out of Park City, Utah — had a stellar week at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Kandersteg, Switzerland.

He earned a podium finish in the first event, placing third on the normal hill. In the second individual event — Saturday in another normal hill jump, this time with a 5-kilometer race — he was fourth. 

A U.S. relay team, stacked with Park City skiers Stephen Schumann, Tucker Hoefler and Jared Shumate, placed seventh earlier in the week.

Arnone breaks barrier

Competing at that same event, Steamboat's Tess Arnone helped make history. The 14-year old skier competed in the Junior World Championships girls Nordic combined events, one of the world's first international competitions for girls in Nordic combined.

She placed 29th out of 32 starters.

Sankey, Belshaw fly at Junior Worlds

Steamboat Springs ski jumpers Logan Sankey and Annika Belshaw also fared well at the Junior World Ski Championships.

Sankey was 20th on Friday in the girls competition of the HS106 jump while Belshaw — just two years old when Friends went off the air in 2004 — placed 27th.

They each competed in a girls team competition to place 11th and joined boys jumpers Andrew Urlaub and Casey Larson to place 10th in another team competition Sunday.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.