The American nordic combined skiers came tantalizingly close to medals in their four events at World Championships in Oslo over the past two weeks. In the two team competitions, they were fourth and sixth, while in two individual races, they put two men in the top 10 both times.
In Friday’s World Cup in Lahti, Finland, the Americans were spared the fate of again falling just short of the podium—but for the wrong reasons. On what Head Coach Dave Jarrett called “a rough day at the office, on all fronts,” Billy Demong led the U.S. contingent far down in 29th place, 2:37 behind winner Bjoern Kircheisen (GER).
Kircheisen’s teammate Eric Frenzel was second, while France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis was third.
After Demong in 29th, Bryan Fletcher was 33rd, moving up 10 places after a mediocre jump in the morning. Taylor Fletcher and Nick Hendrickson, the two other American starters, were 42nd and 49th.
Nordic combined uses a morning ski jump to seed an afternoon cross-country race, and according to Jarrett, conditions on the hill on Friday were tough.
“It was snowing really hard some times, and then windy,” he said.
Organizers typically run a trial jump, called a “provisional round,” the day before a real competition, in case the weather deteriorates. The U.S. had done fairly well in Lahti on Thursday—Demong was sitting in 12th, and Bryan Fletcher in 31st—and according to Jarrett, “we would have been happy if they used the provisional round.”
For a time, it looked like Thursday’s jump might get the nod. But despite the weather, Jarrett said, “they pushed through anyway, and got the comp off.”
With the new round of jumping, the Americans ended up in significantly worse position; Demong was 36th, Bryan Fletcher was 43rd, and Taylor Fletcher and Hendrickson 46th and 54th in a 56-man field.
Demong, one of the strongest skiers on the circuit, normally can make up time when he starts in the middle of the field—in two individual races at World Championships, he turned in the fastest and second-fastest cross-country times. But on Friday, he was uncharacteristically sluggish on the trails—a minute and a half off the fastest course time set by Austrian Felix Gottwald—which Jarrett chalked up to poor ski selection.
“He started with Felix, and…was expecting to ski with Felix the whole race,” Jarrett said. “On the downhills, [Demong] couldn’t even stay with him.”
Gottwald went on to move up from 35th to 12th by the end of the race, while Demong picked up just seven spots.
The Americans will get another shot in Saturday’s individual competition, which marks the last World Cup of the 2011 season.
There’s a decent amount at stake, with Fletcher trying to crack the top 25 on the World Cup overall, and Demong sitting just outside the top 50 on the World Ranking List. A good result on Saturday could put him back in.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.