All of US Ski Team’s five Nordic combined skiers come into the World Championships with their own unique story for the World Championships in Oslo. And all have a certain amount of respect for the venue. The Holmenkollen arena was host to the World Championships in 1930, 1966 and 1982 as well, but some of these racers were even born then, others just barely out of diapers.
Although the crew tries to treat the World Championships in Holmenkollen as much as possible like any other international competition, there is something different with Holmenkollen.
“Holmenkollen is a different animal. The crowd, the jump, the town – all that nordic skiing is all about, it’s all rolled into one venue at Holmenkollen. The tradition for skiing runs so deep in Norway. People in their 80s will camp out along the course because that’s what they’ve always done,” Todd Lodwick said.
Lodwick, 34, is going into his eighth World Championships. He debuted at the 1995 World Championships in Thunder Bay, Canada, and has not missed more than one: the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, Japan. Lodwick retired after the 2006 season, only to make a comeback for the 2009 season.
30-year-old Johnny Spillane, who debuted at the 1999 Worlds in Ramsau, Austria, will compete at his seventh World Championships this week.
Billy Demong, 30, is entering his sixth worlds. He also debuted in 1999 with Spillane, but missed the 2003 Worlds in Val di Fiemme.
Bryan Fletcher, 24, is going into his third World Championships. He debuted in 2007 with the Sapporo World Championships.
All of them describe the Holmenkollen venue as both mythical and epic. And that is where rookie Taylor Fletcher, 20, gets to make his World Championship debut.
“This is the birth place of nordic skiing. It makes it fun to be here,” said Taylor Fletcher, Bryan’s younger brother.
Defending Champion – and loving it
Lodwick is wearing the white bib of the Defending World Champion, and also has a free entry to the Worlds. So he doesn’t count toward the American quota of four racers, which is why the US enters five racers in Saturday’s competition in the normal hill.
“I’m pretty excited about it. I achieved the goals I had set for myself when I was young. Coming back from retiring in 2009 I had these goals in mind. This last summer I had some time off battling sickness, so it wasn’t the best preparation, but I have high expectations for tomorrow,” Lodwick said to FasterSkier after their last team practice before the Championships.
“I’ve had consistently top four, and I’ve always like the smaller hill. It’s got a lot of flow to it, and I’m excited for tomorrow, and I want to jump far and ski better than I have been. I’ll fight for medals whatever color they may be,” Lodwick said.
Injuries and training breaks
The other veterans of the team, Spillane and Demong, are coming back from a season prep that’s not according to the book. Spillane had a break from training of almost 10 months due to injuries and is racing himself back into former glory.
“It’s hard to say, and I don’t want to focus so much on results, but if I feel good – really good – and have a good race, I have a chance of a podium,” Spillane said, noting that this year, he started farther behind and more from scratch than ever.
“It’s been more about getting back and getting used to jumping and skiing. I went straight to competing at the World Cup, and didn’t have a great start. Jumping is so much mental, and if you don’t get it right it can take a long time to get back,” Spillane explained.
But Spillane is excited about the races and will focus on getting better on the hill.
“Focusing on results is starting in the wrong end. You have to focus on racing your best competition. You can only control what you are doing, you can’t control your competitors,” he concluded.
Demong had a non-traditional start to the season as well, and just became a father in January.
“It was a bit of a different year for me too. I started training again in September, and things came back slower than normal. But after the Lake Placid things have been good and I feel good, both jumping and skiing,” Demong said.
Demong doesn’t want to put too many specific expectations on his races in Holmenkollen, but he is looking forward to the World Championships.
“We’ve taken this year to do other things but centered around the Championships. I will focus on enjoying that ride. I think the team has medal chances in every event” Demong said.
Third times the charm
“I’m really excited for the whole worlds. I’m coming off a really good season and I just want to have fun with this,” said Bryan Fletcher. He has routinely exceeded his own goals of being consistently in the top 30 on the World Cup and delivered both top-10 and top-20 results.
“I know I can fight for top 10 or even a medal, but I want to focus on performance, not results,” Fletcher said. “I want to ski a good, solid race and not get caught up in the moment, just keep my head and have fun,” he said.
Younger brother Taylor Fletcher is surrounded by a seasoned team with grounded athletes to help keep his feet planted on earth.
“I’m not going in with high expectations. I just need to go in and have fun. I’ll do my best and continue to improve on the season,” Fletcher said, noting that he thinks he has learned something from the Olympics in Vancouver last year.
“I didn’t think I was very nervous. Now I can be more relaxed, have more fun and think of it more like a normal competition,” Taylor Fletcher explained.
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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.