Nordic-combined 2016/17 Season Wrap
Rising Star Ben Loomis Turns Heads
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.