With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S. and Canada, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This honor goes to the outstanding North American Nordic Combined athlete on the World Cup.
The athletic and psychological bar is set high. Imagine a sport where you’re perched hundreds of meters above the ground, the wind whistles, and you’re accelerating down in a tight tuck, and then it’s fleeting moments of flight before a stylish telemark landing.
That’s followed by a more terrestrial and lung burning feat of racing on cross country skis. It’s a sport where explosive power in jumping is complemented by an elite middle distance runner’s aptitude for high speed endurance.
Enter Bryan Fletcher as FasterSkier’s North American Nordic Combined Skier of the Year.
According to the International Ski federation’s (FIS) database, U.S. Nordic Combined team member Bryan Fletcher participated in his first international competition back in 2002. For the 30-year-old based in Park City, Utah that’s a lot of jumps and k’s.
Fletcher finished the year as the highest ranked American on the World Cup in 34th. (In 2016 Fletcher ranked 20th overall and 15th overall in 2015.) His season best results came on the front and back end of the season: a ninth place on December 4th in Lillehammer, Norway and an 11th place on March, 18th in Schonach, Germany.
In between was a mix of almost there, not quite there, and a close podium call at the 2017 Lahti, Finland World Championships where Fletcher remained in the hunt until an untimely spill in the closing portion of the Individual Gundersen 10 k — Fletcher finished 14th (+47.4).
“I think my performance at Worlds was definitely my highlight,” Fletcher wrote in an email. “I wanted to be a contender in that event and I was. I have replayed that race a few times in my head and I think a few different moves in the final lap and I could have been fully in the fight for the medal.”
With many seasons to reflect upon, Fletcher explained the 2016-2017 season ranked as one of his most difficult.
“I came into the season ready to go and in really good shape for both XC and jumping,” Fletcher noted. “I think my mistake was I was too eager to get the season underway. I had trouble maintaining that fitness and body composition and ultimately had to reset over the holidays and rebuild in order to prepare for World Championships.”
Fletcher became ill in early January but his energy rebounded before Worlds.
“Worlds started strong but again I peaked one week too early.” Fletcher explained. “I was very happy to be in the fight the first week, and I know that I am capable to be in contention in all events.”
Beyond mitigating illness while on the road, Nordic Combined remains a fickle sport when it comes to modifying one’s jumping technique. Yet. Fletcher’s year was one where he acknowledged the need for technical changes in his jumping.
“Yeah jumping was starting to come around at the end of the season a bit more,” Fletcher emailed. “It was still inconsistent but I have learned a lot about myself as a competitor this season especially in regards to my technical skills and abilities. Towards the end of the year I was able to start applying some of the things I have learned about myself to my jumping, and the results were slowly starting to improve. Obviously the level is very high in the sport right now, and so even small mistakes mean you are out of contention.”
Next year brings an end to the quadrennial cycle that is the Olympics. Like others in the U.S. nordic ski community, Fletcher will be focused on the PyeongChang, South Korea Games. As Fletcher regroups for his off season training, the new dad remains dedicated to improving and bringing his best.
“The big take away is that I know which areas I need to improve upon and what worked well going into next year,” Fletcher wrote. “Also I am really motivated for next year and my body is feeling good. The past two seasons I planned to tone things down a bit in my training, so that I could build up a bit stronger for PyeongChang. In the past I have always had a performance build for the three years prior to the Olympics, but have come into the Olympic season a bit flat. My goal was to disrupt that cycle to increase performance next season.”