The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team strives for a lot of things – medals, depth, continued improvement – but flying under the radar isn’t one of them. Anyone who followed the team and one if its racers, Taylor Fletcher, for the past 10 days in Europe could tell you that.
The younger of two brothers on the team, Taylor, 22, ran around in a full-body Captain America costume throughout the trip from Oct. 15-25, which included stops in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and Oberstdorf, Germany. The reason? He lost a bet with A-teamer Billy Demong for lowest cumulative time in World Cup competitions last season. But when you look at the video of Taylor rollerskiing and trying to catch a football in the bulky suit, it looks like he’s having fun.
That’s the entire U.S. Nordic Combined squad in a nutshell. With 10 men between the A and B teams this season – up three from last year with the addition of Adam Loomis, Erik Lynch and Michael Ward – they’re close-knit and comical. However, with the start of the 2012/2013 season about four weeks away, they also know how to get down to business.
The entire team (excluding Lynch who was home recovering a broken wrist) and its National Training Group (NTG) traveled to Europe nearly two weeks ago for a camp largely focused on jumping. With the financial support of the National Nordic Foundation and a budget initiative from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association/U.S. Ski Team, 13 skiers attended the team’s second overseas camp of the season. A-team member Bryan Fletcher, 26, felt the large group made a difference.
“The 4 young guys [Tyler Smith, Alec Gantic, Spencer Knickerbocker and Ben Berend] are full of energy and it’s awesome for us to have an opportunity to share our training with them,” he wrote in an email. “They are definitely the future of US NC so it’s important to provide them with the best possible training as early as we can.”
In a blog post before flying back to the U.S. on Thursday, Loomis explained they ended camp with a two-man team event on Oberstdorf’s big hill and 1.5-kilometer sprint course. Teammates tagged off between laps to race 7.5 k apiece.
“Billy and Nick [Hendrickson] cleaned up,” Loomis wrote. “But it was a good fight for the next few spots (the middle guys always seem to have the strongest teams — and they didn’t exactly have great races in Predazzo).”
The team did several interval sessions and a few time trials in Italy, according to U.S. Continental Cup and development coach Greg Poirer.
It was quite a sight to see more than a dozen “Team USA” guys flying around parts of the Marcialonga marathon course on rollerskis, he added. They wanted to train at the site of the 2013 FIS Nordic Ski World Championships for that reason.
“One of our philosophies is to become as familiar as possible with the facilities/venues where we have major events (i.e. Vancouver, Oslo, Val di Fiemme and, of course Sochi),” Poirer wrote in an email. “In addition to scheduled World Cups or so called ‘test events’ at these venues, we try to spend quality training time, as well, to enhance our preparation for these major competitions.”
U.S. head coach Dave Jarrett said they chose Oberstdorf because its jump has an iced inrun in October. His staff hoped that would provide adequate preparation before the team could jump on snow at home in Park City, Utah, within the next month. The World Cup season starts Nov. 24-25 in Lillehammer, Norway.
Before they go full steam ahead, Poirer explained U.S. Nordic Combined has some distinct goals: namely three medals at World Championships.
“It’s the same goal we set for Vancouver, Oslo and Sochi,” he wrote. “Three medals sets the bar very high but as the team proved in Vancouver [at the 2010 Olympics] … doable!”
He credited their success at the last Winter Olympics – with Demong winning gold, Johnny Spillane taking two individual silvers, and the team placing second in the relay – partially to being familiar with Whistler Olympic Park.
“We are using resources to duplicate, to the best of our ability, the familiarity of Vancouver here in Val di Fiemme as well as Sochi,” he wrote. “So far, Sochi has been a little difficult to organize training outside of test events.”
That’s why they focused on Italy. Back in Park City, Jarrett prepared to fly to a different part of the world: Tokyo. On Sunday, he spoke at an altitude training conference at the Japanese Institute of Sport Science (JISS). U.S. Olympic Committee senior physiologist Randy Wilber nominated him to do so, and Jarrett said it was an honor to join the ranks of international presenters. In the past, renowned people, such as Michael Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman and U.S. cycling coach Dean Golich, spoke at similar conferences.
“They were looking for a coach from the U.S. that uses altitude training and has experience in it,” said Jarrett, who has presented at a couple of Wilber’s altitude conferences in the U.S. as well.
In a phone conversation, Jarrett explained he’s been interested in the effects of altitude for a long time, especially living around 7,000 feet above sea level in Park City. What he shared was mostly based around that.
“I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but it’s also not a big secret, either: We use altitude training because live at altitude anyway,” he said. “We are almost doing it a little backwards than what most other nations are because they’re usually going up to altitude to acclimatize and go back to sea level to race. We’re always at altitude so we have to reverse-engineer it: how do we live all the time at altitude and be ready to race at sea level?”
In his first time in Tokyo for more than a night, he wrote in an email that the JISS was “a pretty amazing place.” Jarrett was back in Park City on Monday and trained with juniors Wednesday at Soldier Hollow, where snow was spotted that morning. Early Thursday, he reached out to the Norwegian nordic combined team, which is finishing up a monthlong training period in Park City, via Twitter: “Skiing this morn?”
2012/2013 U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team
Billy Demong (Vermontville, N.Y)
Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs)
Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs)
Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs)
Brett Denney (Steamboat Springs)
Nick Hendrickson (Park City)
Adam Loomis (Eau Claire, Wis.)
Erik Lynch (Steamboat Springs)
Michael Ward (Aspen, Colo.)
Head Coach: Dave Jarrett
World Cup Jumping Coach: Chris Gilbertson
Continental Cup/Development Coach: Greg Poirer