One week after skiing to a new career-best in Chaux-Neuve, France, Taylor Fletcher cut the mark in half on Saturday. Posting the 28th-ranked jump on the hill and the fastest 10 k course time by eighteen seconds, the 22-year-old came in fifth in the Gundersen Normal Hill competition in Seefeld, Austria, to lead the American World Cup squad to three men in the top-30.
“I feel like today was by far my best race of the whole year,” Fletcher said on the phone from Seefeld. “I had the fastest time by 18 seconds, which is outrageous — I didn’t think that would be possible.”
A look at recent results, however, shows that Fletcher has been steadily ascending the World Cup ranks. Saturday was the fourth time this season he had the fastest course time, and with a best-ever jump to put him in a good position he was able to finish where his coach Dave Jarrett always knew he could.
“We know Taylor’s among the fastest guys out there,” Jarrett said. “He’s jumping well, has more and more confidence on the jumping hill, and that’s put him in a position to fight for a podium. That happens on the course but you’ve got to set it up on the jumping hill, so he’s done a good job all the way around.”
The day began with Fletcher jumping to 28th, which put him within striking distance of the likely competition leaders once he put on the skinny skis. He started 1:36 down to Austria’s Bernhard Gruber and 1:06 behind eventual competition-winner Eric Frenzel (GER), and when he left the gate Fletcher set his sights on reeling them in within the first few laps of the course.
“It was pretty brutal,” he said. “The first five guys had a gap on most of the field, so I went out hard because there was a group of a lot of fast skiers right in front of me, like within fifteen seconds. I figured if I could catch them within the first few laps I’ve got a good chance of skiing with them for the rest of the race, and getting into a place where I could pop a good result. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Three of top five finishers on Saturday ended up being from the same pack that started in front of Fletcher. The American was in second coming into the finishing lanes, but was just outkicked at the end to finish two seconds off the podium.
“Unfortunatly I don’t know how to do that, and got passed,” Fletcher laughed, speaking of his sprint ability. “It’s a bummer but fifth is my best result and I’m very happy with that.”
Because he started at the biggest deficit in the group he finished with, his course time came through 18 seconds ahead of the next-fastest from Mikko Kokslien (NOR), a well-decorated skier in his own right. The gap has him feeling more confident as he heads into the next few World Cups and as World Championships steadily approaches.
“That’s a really good feeling knowing I’m capable of doing this,” Fletcher said. “And on the other side, my jumping is getting steadily better. One of my goals this year was to jump more consistently in the top 30 and today is a start. I can build on that.”
Fletcher’s older brother, Bryan, was the next American to come through in 24th, 1:52 off Frenzel’s winning performance. Todd Lodwick finished 29th overall (+2:12) to put three Americans in the top-30. Competition resumes in Seefeld on Sunday with another normal hill competition.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.