U.S. skiers set for Nordic combined Worlds | SteamboatToday.com

U.S. skiers set for Nordic combined Worlds

Taylor Fletcher races in 2013 at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. He helped the United States win a bronze medal in a team relay event that day. He and four other U.S. skiers will compete in four World Championships events over the next two weeks in Lahti, Finland.

— Germany will do well in Nordic combined at the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland, or at least it should.

The German team has dominated the Nordic combined World Cup circuit this season, winning 18 of the 19 events and accounting for 72 percent of the available podium spots.

Now rolling into the biggest two weeks of competitions of the season, there are justifiably expectations.

The U.S. Nordic combined team is on the other end of those expectations, and while "expected to win World Championship medals after destroying the competition" probably makes the list of "good problems to have," the U.S. team is familiar with its spot and eager to try to punch up from there.

"A lot of people put a lot of pressure on those events to be their best, to perform those days, so there are a lot of spectacular performances and a lot of disappointing performances," said Bryan Fletcher, set to compete in his fifth World Championships. "Certainly, being one of the underdogs in the sport, it's a little easier for us to muster up some spectacular performances from time to time because we don't have that pressure to constantly be on the podium."

The U.S. has actually shown an ability to manage that underdog role and score big in big events in the past.

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The American team this year will consist of Steamboat Springs-seasoned skiers Fletcher, Taylor Fletcher and Ben Berend, as well as Eau Claire, Wisconsin, brothers Adam Loomis and Ben Loomis.

Both Fletcher brothers were a part of the U.S.'s 2013 bronze-medal winning four-man relay at the World Championships. Bryan Fletcher also shined at the last championship, racing with the lead group and challenging for the win in 2015 throughout one of the individual events before eventually settling for fifth.

He has 25 individual top-10 finishes in World Cup-level events, but that 2015 result remains one of his best.

"If I can get my jumping down, I can really be competitive in this event," he said.

There, of course, is the rub for the U.S. team.

Poor jumping results have often served as a counterweight to elite cross-country skiing times for much of the last six seasons, especially for Team Fletcher. The team's best jumping this season has come from Berend, who's placed as high as second in that side of the competition, but from top to bottom, it remains the squad's Achilles’ heel.

Still, they see hope in Lahti's jumping hills, comparatively small compared to other World Cup venues, which could work to prevent the circuit's best jumpers from flying away from the field and give its best skiers, including the Fletchers, a solid chance of sticking in the race.

"It's almost always a crap shoot in Lahti," U.S. coach Dave Jarrett said. "The winds get fluky, but we're looking at it as an opportunity."

If any of the U.S. skiers can put those elements together, they'll be fighting, almost surely, with those Germans, who have locked down the top two spots in the World Cup points standings, and three of the top four.

Germany's Johannes Rydzek has won nine of the 17 events he's competed in this season while his countryman Erik Frenzel has won eight of his 18 events. They've each missed the podium just twice.

"It's been pretty amazing," Jarrett said. "It's been their top guys, their core guys, doing it, but they've also sprinkled some new guys in. It's just incredible the depth they have."

The pressure will be on them to win, but a few Americans would love to at least amp up that pressure.

"Certainly, with some good jumping and good racing, I can be in the fight," Fletcher said.

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

Nordic combined World Championship Schedule

Friday: Normal hill, 10K

Sunday: Normal hill, 20K four-man relay

March 1: Large hill, 10K

March 3: Large hill, 15K two-man relay

2017 World Championships Nordic combined team

Bryan Fletcher

Age: 30

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 4 years, 13 races

Best result: Team – 3rd, 2013; Individual – 5th, 2015

Taylor Fletcher

Age: 26

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 3 years, 10 races

Best result: Team – 3rd, 2013; Individual – 17th, 2013

Ben Berend

Age: 21

Hometown: Steamboat Springs

World Championship appearances: 1 year, 1 race

Best result: Individual – 45th, 2015

Ben Loomis

Age: 18

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

World Championship appearances: None

Adam Loomis

Age: 21

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

World Championship appearances: 1 year, 2 races

Best result: Team – 7th, 2015; Individual – 41st, 2015