The Nordic world is focused on Kuusamo, Finland, this weekend. In addition to the cross-country World Cup taking place, the first Nordic Combined World Cup is taking happening in the same location.
Bryan Fletcher led the American contingent with a strong ski, moving himself four spots up on the result lists after finishing 22nd in the jumping competition Saturday. Fletcher started 1 minute 20 seconds behind the leader, only a second behind Mikko Kokslien (NOR), who ended up second overall. Fletcher went right to work from the get-go, and picked off a couple of spots in just the first quarter of the race. He was able to pluck off two more spots in the final kilometer of the race to earn himself 18th place.
“I was able to jump more like I had been jumping in training, which landed me in 22nd after the jumping,” Fletcher said to FasterSkier after the race. “I was able to ski strong and ski my own race without pushing it too hard and blowing up,” he said, explaining that he was happy with a top 20 result.
“Kuusamo was a tough place to start the season, cold weather and a large hill, with an even tougher course make it a really challenging opener for the season,” Fletcher said, noting that the cold added more trouble.
“The cold can really screw up your routines on the jump hill and on the race course. The weather was very, very cold and the humidity didn’t help. Everyone was freezing during and after the race. Because it so cold you tend to try to stay in a warm place as long as possible, however this can make you late for your jumps or the race and then jumping into the comp can be hectic,” Fletcher explained, adding that two hours after the race, his fingers were still tingling.
“I hope it is a breakthrough for him,” U.S. Nordic Combined Team head coach Dave Jarrett said to www.usskiteam.com.
“It’s a step in the build to 2014 where we need to have more different guys doing this more often. It starts with top 30s, then top 20s,” Jarrett continued. “But we need to keep it in perspective. It is his best result but we have higher expectations.”
Billy Demong jumped 111 meters to start the cross-country in 38th place, which Jarrett suspects is partly an equipment issue. Demong worked himself up two spots to finish in 36th but that doesn’t concern Jarrett too much at this point.
“With more and more jumps leading into Oslo [World Championships], he’ll have plenty of time to dial things in. That’s the focus for Bill this season,” Jarrett said.
Taylor Fletcher was 36th after the jumping with a distance of 115 meters, but dropped to 39th after the cross-country. Brett Camerota did not start the cross-country after a tough start on the hill.
Day for breakthroughs
It was the day for breakthroughs in Finland; Mikko Kokslien (NOR) was 21st after the jumping but skied into second place. Kokslien was narrowly beaten by Felix Gottwald (AUT), who won the competition after skiing from 26th to 1st place over the 10K course, only passing Kokslien on the last kilometer. Jason Lamy Chappuis (FRA), who earned himself a 15-second head start after soaring 140 meters in the jumping, ended up in third place.
Kokslien, who started 1:19 behind and lead the race for parts of the course, said he doesn’t know what to feel, losing first place by 7.5 seconds at the finish.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. This is a new situation for me. I thought the Austrian was a little ways back, but then suddenly he was right there,” Kokslien said to Norwegian television station NRK
“This was wicked good. I’ve worked so hard for so many years,” Kokslien said to NRK.
This is Kokslien’s best international result, and the Norwegian coaches consider it a breakthrough for the 25-year-old.
Francois Braud (FRA) was second after the jumping, but finished the cross-country in 16th place. Wilhelm Denifl (AUT) was third after the jumping but finished 11th overall.
“Overall I am happy with my results in Kuusamo, however I know I can still do better,” Fletcher said. “The whole team is looking ahead to Lillehammer and hoping to post some solid results there. Our team knows we can be at the top and the group of guys here can definitely put it together, it’s just a matter of time,” Fletcher said.
And while Jarrett is excited about Bryan Fletcher’s break into the top 20, he is looking at the performance as a whole and seeing that there are plenty of things to work on. The crew now heads to Lillehammer (NOR) for a pair of World Cup races next weekend, and then to Ramsau (AUT) the weekend after, and looks to build on the season opener in Finland.
“Collectively we’re not skiing on par,” said Jarrett. “We come into a long block of racing now. If the plan goes as we’re hoping they’ll ski stronger in Lillehammer next weekend and be in good shape for Ramsau the following weekend.”
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.