National championship on the line for skiers | SteamboatToday.com

National championship on the line for skiers

Bryan Fletcher flies off the HS75 ski jump at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs earlier this month. Fletcher will be one of the favorites Saturday when the U.S. National Championships for Nordic combined are contested in Park City.

— It's not the most important event of the year, and it may not even be the most important event of the summer.

There's still something special about being a "national champion," and that's what will drive the top U.S. Nordic combined and special jumping athletes Saturday in Park City, Utah.

"It's the national championships, so everyone wants to win," U.S. Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher said. "I'm hoping to get my first title."

Whoever wins on the Nordic combined side will be in for a rare honor. Bryan Fletcher, Taylor's older brother, is actually the only active Nordic combined athlete with a national championship.

He won last year when the event was contested in October in Lake Placid, New York.

The Fletcher brothers — Olympians born and raised in Steamboat Springs before moving to Park City to train — expect a similar story to unfold as they chase a championship.

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Bryan, 29, has had a strong summer of training on the jump and is confident going into that element of the competition.

Taylor, meanwhile, has been one of the fastest skiers on the World Cup circuit for the last two seasons. Those results have been on snow, but, no surprise, he's pretty quick on a pair of roller skis, as well.

"I think I can hold him off," Bryan said with a laugh. "He's skiing extremely fast, and he's definitely a threat. This nationals will be very competitive because some of those young guys have seen some very positive changes in their jumping, as well. It will be cool."

The U.S. Championships have become a summer staple, moved out of the winter to avoid that season's busy schedule. This weekend they'll coincide with the Springer Tournee at Utah Olympic Park, a ski-jumping event in its 17th year.

In addition to Nordic combined championships, it's championships for special jumping, and it's a unique training opportunity for new athletes and old. It makes for a big weekend of Nordic events for athletes from Utah, Steamboat Springs and all across the country.

"With the Springer Tournee, it's a great chance for the young kids to get to ski against the old kids," Bryan said. "We get the chance to work with them as coaches, so that's pretty exciting.

"It's a pretty unique weekend, and it's become a highlight for the summer for a lot of kids."

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