Nordic Combined World Cup Wrap
March 3-4 – Lahti, Finland
A week after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics wrapped up, the Nordic-combined athletes were back in action at Lahti, Finland. In the final team event of the season, the Austrian squad won the opening Team Sprint with Wilhelm Denifl and Bernhard Gruber. They finished 0.8 seconds in front of Norway 1 and 2.1 seconds ahead of Finland 1. The U.S. team of Jasper Good and Taylor Fletcher placed 14th at 3:42.6 behind the winners.
Germany’s Johannes Rydzek won the second and final day of competition in Lahti, victorious in the Individual Large Hill/10km Gundersen by 3.4 seconds ahead of his compatriot Vinzenz Gieger. Norway’s Joergen Graaback rounded out the podium in third. The U.S.A.’S Taylor Fletcher struggled in the jump, but made up 12 positions in the cross-country leg to finish in 36th at 3:28.4 down.
March 10 – Oslo, Norway
Japanese skier Akito Watabe returned to his winning ways in Oslo, Norway for the 10th round of the World Cup. After placing second in the ski jump with 130.8 points, Watabe won the 10km Gundersen over Fabian Riessle of Germany. Austrian Mario Siedl placed third, narrowly outsprinting Jan Schmid of Norway. The U.S.A.’S Bryan Fletcher skied strongly, setting the 12-fastest time of the day to move up seven spots into 17th. He was the top American ahead of his teammates, Ben Loomis and Bryan’s brother Taylor Fletcher, who placed 42nd and 44th respectively.
March 13-14 – Trondheim, Norway
It looked as if Watabe would repeat his victory from Oslo after winning the opening jump in Trondheim, Norway. But the Japanese athlete suffered in the 10km ski, getting caught by German Eric Frenzel, who outsprinted him for the win in the end. Frenzel’s teammates Riessle and Rydzek started more than a minute back, but dominated the ski to place third and fourth, capping off an amazing day for the German team. U.S.A.’S Bryan Fletcher missed out on a top 10 by just two seconds, placing 12th on the day.
Bouncing back from the previous day, Bryan Fletcher took a superb seventh on the second day of competition, returning to the Large Hill/10km Gundersen, the final race of his outstanding career, as he had announced his retirement earlier (see page 24). He started the ski in 12th position, picking off his opponents to finish 19.7 seconds behind the winner Riessle. Norwegian Jarl Magnus Riiber of Norway, 20, took the silver for the home crowd, outsprinting Finnish skier Eero Hirvonen. Japan’s Watabe maintained his overall World Cup lead heading into the final two rounds in Germany.
March 17-18 – Klingenthal, Germany
Riessle dominated on home soil to take the victory at the penultimate round of the World Cup. After setting the standard on the Large Hill, he maintained his lead, finishing in front of Hirvonen of Finland, who took his second-straight podium. Watabe of Japan claimed third at 22.1 seconds back. Taylor Fletcher was the only American to compete, placing 35th with the fifth-fastest time on the ski leg.
Riessle returned to the top step of the podium on Day Two. He led a German 1-2 victory with Rydzek, leapfrogging bronze-medalist Watabe of Japan and Schmid of Norway. Taylor Fletcher led a large contingent of Americans competitors with his crushing ski performance. He started in 50th, but set the fourth-fastest ski time to finish 34th.
March 24-25 – Schonach, Germany
As the battle for the World Cup overall heated up, Watabe stayed cool, winning the opening day of the final round in Germany. He finished the 10km with the third-fastest time to finish 6.3 seconds ahead of Riiber of Norway, who took home second. Although jumping to 10th on the Normal Hill, Gruber of Austria nailed the ski to snag the final spot on the podium at 10.1 seconds ahead of his compatriot Siedl. The lone American, Loomis, placed 50th.
On the final day of World Cup season, Watabe landed the win to mark the 17th of his career. It was a repeat of the previous day, with Riiber of Norway having the best jump on the Normal Hill, but he was passed by the Japanese athlete in the finale. Germany’s Riessle took third after a strong season.
After a dominant season with eight wins, his best season to date, Watabe took home the overall as well as the Best Jumper classification. He finished almost 400 points ahead of Norway’s Schmid, who was second overall and Germany’s Riessle in third. Norway won the Nations Cup in a slender advantage over Germany, and Alessandro Pittin of Italy took home the Best Skier trophy.
American Bryan Fletcher finished 29th overall for his final World Cup season. The American skier began competing in 2002 and took home a career-first historic World Cup victory (the King’s Cup) at the season finale in the Holmenkollen at Oslo in 2012. He also earned a Team Relay bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Flemme, Italy.
Final Nordic-combined World Cup overall podium (l-r) Jan Schmid 2nd, Akito Watabe 1st, Fabian Riessle 3rd. The U.S.A.'S Bryan Fletcher retired following the World Cup in Trondheim, Norway, celebrating a storied career.