FasterSkier Nordic Combined Skier of the Year
With Canada supporting a small, and young Nordic Combined team, focus remains on the US squad. And it was an interesting year for the team.
Coming off an Olympics with three individual medals, including gold, and a silver in the team competition, it would be easy to understand high expectations, especially with the trio of Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick, and Johnny Spillane returning for another year.
But Spillane injured his knee before the season even began, Lodwick struggled with health issues, and Demong took time off from training to recharge his batteries and work on his house in Utah. Add to that the unexpected retirement by the fourth member of the silver medal relay team from the Olympics, Brett Camerota, and the 2011 season did not have quite the sparkle.
There were still several bright spots. Demong and Lodwick, despite racing abbreviated schedules, still demonstrated they are among the best in the world, cracking the top-10 in both individual World Championship races.
And the team was in the medal hunt in both team competitions at Worlds.
The idea behind the Skier of the Year award is that it should go to the best, regardless of circumstances and comparisons to years past. But in this case we are making an exception.
Bryan Fletcher (USA/USST) There is no question that Demong and Lodwick were the top North American Nordic Combined skiers in 2011, but both raced highly truncated schedules, and were clearly a level below last year.
Fletcher, on the other hand, took a significant step forward in his skiing, filling the void in the fourth spot left by Camerota, and becoming a consistent World Cup points scorer.
The 24-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colorado made 14 World Cup starts and competed in all four events at World Championships.
He cracked the top-30 nine times, and just missed on three other occasions adding finishes of 31, 33, and 34.
His best result was an impressive eighth in mid-December in Ramsau, Austria – a race in which he finished just nine seconds off the podium.
He ended the season ranked 30th in the overall World Cup the second American behind Lodwick’s 28th.
At the World Championships Fletcher placed 30th and 33rd in the two individual races, and skied the second leg in the two team competitions with the US finishing 4th and 6th.
Fletcher has demonstrated that the success of the US Nordic Combined program is on track to continue beyond the Big Three of Demong, Lodwick and Spillane.
While Spillane has yet to decide if he will continue to race in 2012, and Lodwick has also expressed some uncertainty, with Demong singed on through 2014 the emergence of Fletcher gives the US a strong core for the next three years.
Todd Lodwick (USA/USST) Lodwick placed fifth and eighth in the two World Championship individual races and had a fourth and another eighth on the World Cup. He finished 28th in the overall World Cup standings despite competing in just six individual races.
Billy Demong (USA/USST) Demong cracked the top-20 just twice on the World Cup in 2011, but saved his best for World Championships, placing sixth and seventh in two races. He also started the cross-country 50k race at the Championships.
US Nordic Combined Team
Billy Demong (USA/USST)
FasterSkier Awards 2011:
Rookie of the Year
Breakthrough Skier of the Year
Collegiate Skier of the Year
Adaptive Skier of the Year
Continental Skier of the Year
Biathlete of the Year
Nordic Combined Skier of the Year
Performance of the Year (cross-country, biathlon, nordic combined)
Cross-Country Skier of the Year
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.