Nordic Com­bined World Cup Wrap

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Ron John­son

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.

48

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.

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