Nordic-com­bined 2016/17 Sea­son Wrap

Ris­ing Star Ben Loomis Turns Heads

SkiTrax - - International Comp - By Julie Me­lan­son

This past sea­son fea­tured some promis­ing re­sults from young upand-com­ers Ben Loomis from Eau Claire, Wis. and Stephen Schu­mann from Park City, Utah, while vet­eran Bryan Fletcher of Steam­boat Springs, Colo. suf­fered a fate­ful crash at Worlds in the battle for bronze.

At Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way in early De­cem­ber last year at Round Four, Fletcher de­liv­ered a solid ninth-place fin­ish at 1:22 be­hind win­ner Eric Fren­zel from Ger­many. Fletcher placed 22nd in the ski jump­ing and a strong sixth in the cross-coun­try, show­ing good early form.

Then in Lahti, Fin­land in early Jan­uary 2017 at Round Seven, he se­cured the same re­sults in the ski-jump­ing and the cross-coun­try por­tions, but ended up 15th on the day, as Ger­man su­per­star Fren­zel con­tin­ued his win­ning ways.

Heads turned in early Fe­bru­ary at the 2017 USANA FIS Ju­nior Nordic World Cham­pi­onships at the Utah Olympic Park in Sol­dier Hol­low as Loomis claimed ninth and Schu­mann 15th in the men's 5km Nordic-com­bined race.

Ath­letes faced some challenging con­di­tions dur­ing the jump­ing por­tion as head­winds and heavy snow led to a 10-minute break. Com­bined with the short­ened 5km dis­tance, the ath­letes had their work cut out for them to gain ev­ery pre­cious me­tre and sec­ond pos­si­ble.

“[The] 5K re­ally places a big im­por­tance on the jump­ing,” said Loomis. “It's a lot harder to make up time, and th­ese Euro­peans are re­ally quick. I was happy with [my jump], but I'm never re­ally sat­is­fied. I'm al­ways hop­ing for more and that keeps me mo­ti­vated.”

Schu­mann felt oth­er­wise, plac­ing the im­por­tance on the cross-coun­try ski leg: “It's a lot harder to make up time on a 5km be­cause it's that much shorter and ev­ery­one is go­ing that much faster. So it re­ally makes it dif­fi­cult to do too much in the race. It's still pos­si­ble; you just have to push your­self to that ex­tra level.”

Schu­mann added that he just look­ing to chase down as many peo­ple as he could: “I knew that if I went out too hard that there was no way I'd be able to fin­ish the race and I'd get passed by a bunch of peo­ple at the end. So I just tried to take it a lit­tle easy the first lap, then push it as hard as I could on the sec­ond lap and over the very last hill and try to drop the guys I was with.”

At the se­nior Nordic-com­bined Worlds on Feb. 24 in Lahti, Fin­land, Bryan Fletcher was in the run­ning for the bronze when a crash took him out of medal con­tention just 200 me­tres from the fin­ish.

Fletcher soared in the morn­ing jump­ing round, fin­ish­ing 16th with a 93.5-me­tre jump, putting him 56 sec­onds back. Ben Berend (Steam­boat Springs, Colo.) also had a strong jump, stand­ing 22nd with a 92.0-me­tre ride, putting him one minute, nine sec­onds out.

In the 10km cross-coun­try, Fren­zel and Jo­hannes Ry­dzek (GER) shared the work from the start, ski­ing to­gether un­til the fi­nal lap, when Ry­dzek made a clear break­away to re­peat as world cham­pion in the Nor­mal Hill event. While the two Ger­mans were play­ing cat-and-mouse, a huge pack formed in the hunt for the bronze medal.

Fletcher hung to­ward the back for the first two of four laps. On the third 2.5km leg, he moved his way up to take a po­si­tion in the lead com­ing through the sta­dium for the fi­nal time. As the race in­ten­sity picked up, Fletcher held his po­si­tion on the front line in a tac­ti­cally strong po­si­tion to chal­lenge in the fi­nal stretch. But com­ing into the sta­dium on a hair­pin down­hill turn, he lost an edge and slid out, drop­ping from medal con­tention to 14th place in the blink of an eye.

“Jump­ing was good – it was re­ally a good start to the day,” said Fletcher. “I knew that I could be in con­tention on this hill. I was con­fi­dent go­ing in that I could put down a good jump.”

Bryan's brother Tay­lor Fletcher found him­self well back af­ter the jump – a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment. But he skied his way from 47th up to 21st with the third-fastest cross-coun­try time.

“I knew it was go­ing to be a hard cross-coun­try race be­cause it was so tight, and pack racing is al­ways so dif­fi­cult,” added Bryan. “You're not only fight­ing for po­si­tion, but any­thing can hap­pen. That's ex­actly what hap­pened to me today. I did re­ally well in the pack, and when I thought I had it locked up, I let my guard down and slipped out on a cor­ner.”

Ger­many made a clean sweep, win­ning the gold in the Nordic-com­bined Team sprint at the World Cham­pi­onships, while the U.S.A., with Bryan and Tay­lor Fletcher, fin­ished ninth.

The U.S.A. stood 12th af­ter the jump, with both Fletch­ers go­ing 109.5 me­tres. France took the lead, tak­ing a 16-sec­ond mar­gin over Ger­many into cross-coun­try. The U.S.A. was two min­utes, eight sec­onds back.

In the cross-coun­try leg, Nor­way came blaz­ing from fourth to chal­lenge Ger­many with the fastest time, with Nor­way's Mag­nus Krog fin­ish­ing just a sec­ond be­hind Ger­many's Ry­dzek, who nabbed his fourth gold. The Fletch­ers also set a tor­rid pace, mov­ing up from 12th to ninth with the sec­ond-fastest team time.

At the fi­nal round of the World Cup in Schonach, Ger­many on Day One of the com­pe­ti­tion, Fletcher was just out­side of the top 10, fin­ish­ing 11th, while Fren­zel took the gold and all but se­cured up his hold on the se­ries ti­tle once again.

When the dust set­tled, Fren­zel took the over­all se­ries ti­tle over his com­pa­triot Ry­dzek, with Ak­ito Watabe of Ja­pan in third. For the U.S.A., Bryan Fletcher fin­ished 34th over­all and Tay­lor Fletcher was 49th.

Amer­i­can Ben Loomis claimed a stel­lar 9th in the men's 5km Nordic-com­bined race in early Fe­bru­ary at the 2017 USANA FIS Ju­nior Nordic World Cham­pi­onships in Utah.

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