End of August. It’s not quite transition season yet. Leaves are green, there’s still the possibility of sweltering humidity, and if you’re inclined to fly off 100-meter ski jumping hills sans snow, the International Ski Federation (FIS) Nordic Combined Summer Grand Prix has you covered.
Last weekend, Oberwiesenthal, Germany, hosted the two-day opening round of the Summer Grand Prix. Although months away from on-snow events, jumping and racing on rollerskis against some of the best in the world is an incomparable way to size up dryland training.
Saturday featured a team sprint (teams of two) with a combined score jump followed by a 15-kilometer (2 x 7.5 k) race. Host Germany took the top prize. Germany I, with Björn Kircheisen and Eric Frenzel, placed first. Norway I (Jan Schmid and Magnus Moan) took second (+18.8), and Austria I (Bernhard Gruber and Philipp Orter) finished third (+19.7).
The U.S. entered two teams: Taylor Fletcher and Ben Berend for U.S. I and Jasper Good and Stephen Schumann for U.S. II.
Fletcher and Berend finished the jumping round in 14th; Good and Schumann ranked 19th. U.S. I held its 14th place after the ski portion, finishing 2:24.5 behind the winners. U.S. II ended the day in 18th overall.
Sunday’s normal hill/individual 10 k was a new day for U.S Nordic Combined’s reigning national champ Taylor Fletcher. (Of note: The race weekend featured half of the Fletcher clan. Taylor’s older brother Bryan remained in Park City, Utah, as he and his wife were expecting their first child. They welcomed their baby girl, Ellery Ardene Fletcher, on Monday, Aug. 29.)
Best off the jumping hill on Sunday, Aug. 28, was Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber. Taylor Fletcher jumped to 26th place. He started the ski portion 2 minutes and 25 seconds after Riiber.
Reading between the lines, Fletcher made progress in the jump portion. He flew eight meters farther on Sunday compared to his effort the previous day.
“Today was a good step forward,” Fletcher said Sunday about his Day 2 jump in a USSA press release. “I am pleased, for sure, but know I still have my work to do. I have had some really good jumps lately but haven’t had them in the competition yet. Today I put in a great jump after my miss yesterday (in team sprint) so that was a great feeling. I think this will help me relax knowing that with a jump like this I am in the hunt with my skiing, but of course the goal is to make it easier on the cross country side.”
Schumann jumped to 31st, while U.S. teammate Ben Loomis was 33rd.
Making it easier on the cross-country side was Fletcher’s performance trademark of tracking down early starters. On Sunday, he was true to form and strategy.
Fletcher’s 24:28.9 marked the fastest rollerski time of the day, and brought him within 10.2 seconds of race winner Riiber, who finished in 26:43.7 . The hard-charging effort earned Fletcher seventh-place overall.
“I was happy with the weekend for sure,” Fletcher wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I have been focusing on the jumping way more this year and with the addition of our new jump coach and philosophy I have been able to improve way more. I had pretty solid jumps in Oberwiesenthal but still not my best jumps so that is exciting knowing I can still jump better. I will try to keep those feelings with me as we get ready for competition [on Wednesday] in Villach, Austria.”
Behind Riiber on the podium were Austria’s Mario Seidl (+2.8) in second and Germany’s Kircheisen in third.
For the U.S., Schumann finished 42nd (+3:23.3), Ben Loomis was 45th (+4:11.7), while Adam Loomis did not start the ski portion after being disqualified for a suit violation during the jumping portion.
Asked why the team headed to Europe for the Grand Prix, Fletcher explained the race series provides a fitness litmus test against some of the best in the world.
“We come to Europe for these races to see where our form is at the moment, but also to get some competition and practice in,” he wrote. “These races are no different than the World Cups in the winter with the exception that a few people may be absent. Another reason we come over is for the equipment. All the jumping manufacturers are based in Europe and it is difficult to get equipment sent the USA. Also, every year the rules for jumping are changed and unless you are at a competition, it is hard to know if you bindings, suits, skis, gloves, helmets, undersuits are legal or not. Coming to Summer Grand Prix allows us to check out our equipment with the officials so we know we are inline with the rules and won’t get disqualified for unknown reasons.”
Fletcher elaborated on how jumping differs in the summer compared to jumping in colder, more dense, wintertime air. “The only thing that is different in the summer and winter is the air pressure really,” he wrote. “The surface is different but over time it starts to feel more like snow and the landing and in-run start to feel close. In the summer the temp is high causing the pressure to drop a little, especially in Park City and that makes the jumping a little harder. So without the air pressure, it sometimes feels like you are falling instead of flying through the air. The best jumping happens when the temperature is very cold(-F) as the air is very thick and you feel way more pressure under neath you! The speed is relatively the same as, the slope the hill doesn’t change from summer to winter.”
On Wednesday in Villach, Fletcher did not start the normal hill/10 k competition and final day of the Grand Prix. His teammate Berend led the U.S. in 33rd after posting the 19th-best jump, Ben Loomis finished 42nd after jumping to 31st, and Adam Loomis was 50th, improving upon his 57th-ranked jump.
Austria’s Seidl won at home with a 12.9-second victory over Germany’s Fabian Riessle, and Norway’s Håvard Klemetsen placed third (+15.1).
Now an uncle, Fletcher planned to head home to Park City after the Grand Prix series and spend the month prior to the start of the winter season training in Europe.
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting