Here is a name to remember for both youthful audaciousness and absent mindedness: Jarl Magnus Riiber.
At 18 years old, the Norwegian seems to treat the Nordic Combined World Cup as just another rung in the hierarchy of competition that sooner rather than later he will dominate.
From Friday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 21, three Nordic Combined World Cup competitions were held in Lahti, Finland.
That first event, a large hill/10-kilometer Gundersen began with Riiber ruling the jumping round. He flew the farthest, earning 137.5 points. The jump gave Riiber a 28-second gap at the start of the ski over his nearest competitor. That second jumper was Norway’s Håvard Klemetsen, who scored 130.5 points. Overall World Cup leader, Germany’s Eric Frenzel, jumped to third with 127 points. Second in the overall, Japan’s Akito Watabe, was fourth, with 126.4 points.
All three U.S. men struggled to crack the top 40 on the hill, with Taylor Fletcher leading the team in 40th, Ben Berend jumping to 44th and Bryan Fletcher 47th.
The time gaps Riiber had on Frenzel and Watabe were incrementally negated. On the last lap, the duo caught Riiber.
Yet the young Norwegian held his ground, gapping the chasers slightly on a short hill before a turn into the stadium and the final straightaway. But Riiber, who looked as if he’d cruise in for the win, took the lap lane before realizing his mistake and righting his course. Frenzel won in 23:57.7, Watabe placed second (+1.7), and Norway’s Jan Schmid secured third (+32.2).
For Riiber, not minding the small things has cost him again. On Jan. 29 in Seefeld, Austria, it appeared Riiber would take third place on the podium. He was disqualified for failing to start the ski race with a timing chip. Friday, what would have been Riiber’s second World Cup win, stood as his second World Cup disqualification.
Of the Americans, Taylor Fletcher skied into the points in 24th (+1:57.5) with the seventh-fastest ski time of the day. Bryan Fletcher placed 36th (+3:34.9), and Berend finished 44th (+5:43.7).
The second day of competition on Saturday featured a jump off the large hill followed by a 2 x 7.5 k ski. Two-man teams had their jump point totals combined to determine time back for the ski start.
Ribber and Schmid scored the highest point total, with 252.1 points. Germany I, Johannes Rydzek and Fabian Riessle, scored the second highest total, with 223.7 points, 57 seconds back. Austria I, with Bernhard Gruber and Lukas Klapper, jumped to third with 219.9 points, 1:04 back.
The ski, which was won by the Germany I in 32:57.9, saw Riiber once again succumb to bad luck. While skiing along with Germany’s Riessle, Riiber’s shoulder dislocated. Attempting to push through the injury, Riiber skied on. Yet he ultimately pulled from the race. Besides a likely podium, Norway I’s result lists as an unfortunate DNF.
Austria’s Gruber-Klapper combo placed second, 18 seconds behind Germany. Austria II, with Franz-Josef Rehrl and Philipp Orter, were third (+1:40.8) in a photo finish with Germany II (+1:40.9).
The U.S. entered two teams. United States I (Taylor and Bryan Fletcher) ranked 17th after the jump, while U.S. II (Adam Loomis and Ben Berend) were 20th. Neither team started the ski race.
The last day of competition in Lahti, a 10 k Gundersen, saw the jumping round canceled due to high winds. Results from Friday’s provisional competition round were used to determine the skiing start order. Unfortunately, Riiber, who had won that round, was unable to start due to his shoulder injury.
Watabe, who would have begun two seconds behind Riiber, skied off first. Frenzel started 32 seconds later. His German teammate Riessle began 40 seconds behind in third.
For the U.S., Berend started 20th, Bryan Fletcher 41st, Taylor Fletcher 48th, and Adam Loomis 53rd.
Riessle is considered a strong skier. Watabe conserved his energy, allowing the two Germany to bridge up. That link occurred around 5 k. A chess match began, with none of the skiers wanting to lead out. In the closing kilometers, Riessle pulled away for the win in 25:50.9. Frenzel finished second (+5.1) and Watabe in third (+11).
Bryan Fletcher was the top American finisher in 25th (+3:05.2) and he skied the ninth-fastest time on the day. Taylor placed 28th (+3:30.6) and posted the third fastest ski time. Berend was 33rd, and Loomis 37th.
After the weekend, Frenzel retains the Overall World Cup lead with 1091 points. Watabe is in second with 904 points, and Riessle in third with 789 points.
Bryan Fletcher is 18th overall, and Taylor 28th.
In an email on Sunday, Bryan reiterated his desire to solve the jumping puzzle.
“Well this weekend was not really our weekend,” Bryan wrote. “Training was decent during the week, but for me I got a little overzealous and tried a little too hard in the competition. The results obviously speak for themselves. Racing was good after taking a short break from intensity to gear up for the next 4 races in the rest of the week.
“Jumping is a fickle sport and when you’re on, it seems impossible to ever lose your groove and when you’re off, you’re off,” he added. “So I have hit the reset button and will try to make the most out of what I can in the next couple days of competition.”
Taylor felt better about his jumping.
“This weekend I felt that my jumping had turned for the better finally and I was gaining confidence on the hill which is important,” Taylor wrote in an email on Sunday. “Unfortunately, my one bad jump was in the PCR [provisional competition round] and we had to use that today due to fierce winds that were too strong.
“I skied a solo race catching and passing people immediately, as I wanted to score points I was going to need to have a really strong race and ski my own race as well. I felt really strong all race but one really steep section caught me and i struggled on the final kick up. I was able to continue to push the pace for the rest of the lap and finish strong finishing 28th. I thought I may of had the fastest time, but after seeing I was third I wasn’t too bummed, as I skied the race on my own and in no man’s land for a bit!”
World Cup racing resumes on Tuesday in Kuopio, Finland.