With 44 competitors in front of him and six behind at the start of Saturday’s nordic combined 10 k, Taylor Fletcher knew he had his work cut out for him.
Starting 2 minutes and 14 seconds behind the leader, Germany’s Tino Edelmann, the 21-year-old Fletcher took on the massive task of catching up after his provisional jump from Friday put him in 45th.
Fletcher covered the difficult course, with about 4 inches of fresh snow and windy conditions, faster than all but one man — Alessandro Pittin (ITA), the overall runner-up, who finished the 10 k in 26:26.6.
Pittin was second to Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen, who made his first podium appearance with the victory on Saturday. Klemetsen was the second man to start, 0.2 seconds after Edelmann, who placed third overall.
“It was time,” Klemetsen said in a translated interview with NRK. “It tasted very good.”
Klemetsen skied the 21st fastest split on the snowy course, which had been surrounded by a snow-less landscape on Friday. Edelmann’s time ranked 27th.
The younger of two Fletcher brothers in the race, Taylor finished in 26:38.9, which ranked second and bumped him to a career-best 21st overall (+1:08.5). His previous top result in a World Cup competition was 29th.
“I was very happy with my all around results,” Taylor wrote in an email. That included Friday’s provisional jump, used when race organizers decided to cancel Saturday’s jumping portion because of wet and snowy weather and high winds.
On Friday, the conditions weren’t exactly ideal, either. Taylor wrote that there was a “very hard tailwind,” and he considered 45th not a bad spot to be in, starting less than a minute behind the top 30.
“I really knew I had a chance to score points today,” he wrote. “I started out strong and then followed some of the fast skiers as I caught up. Then I started to feel stronger in the race, which allowed me to put on a strong last lap.”
U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett wrote in an email that Taylor was solid on both the normal hill and the course.
“We know he is one of the fastest guys out here and he showed it today,” Jarrett wrote.
After Taylor, Billy Demong had the second-best showing for the Americans on Saturday. He was 25th (+1:19.8), after ranking 28th in the provisional jump and 22nd in the race.
According to Jarrett, that wasn’t a bad jump for Demong, but he started too hard in the 10 k. Demong tried to stick with Magnus Moan (NOR), who started one second ahead of him, and Pittin, who started at the same time (1:18 seconds back from first), but fell behind on the last of four laps. Moan finished 12th (+31.9).
“The course was very hard and many guys paid the price for starting too hard,” Jarrett wrote.
Bryan Fletcher found himself in a similar position, struggling with the final two laps after starting 16th. He wrote in an email that he had been excited about his potential to move up more, and planned to stay with a few fast skiers that could pull him to the front.
About halfway through the first lap, Bryan was the one leading a chase group.
“I felt great, so I thought nothing of it,” he wrote. “I skied on the front at my own pace and just tried to slowly make my way up. … This was all fine and great except by (the start of) lap three, I was still on the front and now the faster guys behind me were moving up to take the lead.
“Even thought I still felt good, they felt better,” Bryan added. “The next two laps were painful to say the least.”
He dropped from the top 10 to finish 31st (+1:39.1). His time ranked 38th of 50 finishers.
“Although I was disappointed at the finish it was a good lesson to learn early,” Bryan wrote. “I will use today’s mistake as motivation for tomorrow.”
The fourth American, Johnny Spillane opened his first weekend of World Cup competition in 35th. He had been 50th of 51 competitors in the provisional jump, and clocked the 18th fastest split — without much help. According to Jarrett, Spillane skied mostly alone, right behind Taylor, but was unable to catch him.
With the challenges of racing in blizzard-like conditions behind them, the Americans looked forward to Sunday’s large hill jump and penalty-race format.
While the weather was an unknown, many hoped the competition would go on as planned.
As for goals, Taylor wrote that he wanted to jump in the “top thirty so I don’t have to ski up so many positions to get points!”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.