Be grateful it wasn’t you weren’t crouched on top of the ski jump in Sochi, Russia, on Saturday fighting for a starting place in the 10 kilometer skate race to follow. Chances are, your nerve would have abandoned you.
Brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher have no such reservations. Although even they admit the conditions for jumping today were rather unnerving.
“The jumping today was really foggy,” Bryan Fletcher said. “Its was definitely a challenge to see between the snow and the fog but honestly it was an exciting and challenging element to add to the jump.”
From a viewers perspective, the jumpers seemed to disappear into an amorphous wall of fog, streaking in and out of view, only appearing fully as they landed.
Taylor was as undeterred by the conditions as his brother, adding that “the jumping was very difficult and fun. You can always see more in person than on TV but today was very hard to see where you were.”
Both brothers produced fine performances out of trying conditions. Taylor described his jump as a ‘career best,’ whereas Bryan thought that he was “technically capable of better (jump).”
In either case, the brothers set themselves up to make a strong charge up the results sheet, Bryan finishing 10th and Taylor 15th after the jumping stage of the Gundersen HS140/10k competition.
After the jump, the daunting Sochi Olympic course awaited. In addition to a steep track profile, slow conditions added another element of difficulty.
“At first impression this course is hard in several ways,” Bryan said. “Today definitely was accentuated by slow snow and sticky snow on top of really wet fast snow, which made the course inconsistent with shorter rests and longer working sections.”
Taylor echoed this sentiment, saying “It was very challenging as it is a course with very little rest and the only fast down hill is very technical in sloppy conditions.”
Of the brothers, Taylor took back the advantage ceded to his brother in the jumping competition, improving from a 15th place start to a 5th place finish, a scant 2.7 seconds away from a podium.
For Taylor, 23, this season has been a vindication of summer preparation he called ‘perfect.’ Indeed, his form since the beginning of the season, highlighted by a breakthrough third place in Seefeld, Austria, bears all the signs of a man in a position to challenge for a medal at world championships.
“This is my career best season and I’m having a blast racing,” Taylor said.
And what of his aspirations looking forward?
“I am looking forward to world champs and fighting for a medal.”
The Nordic Combined world had better take notice, both for Taylor’s strong run of form and for his brother Bryan’s.
Traditionally, Bryan, 27, is the stronger jumper of the brothers. His results have oscillated throughout the season but he’s had a recent run of sparkling results, in particular an 8th and 6th place finish in Klingenthal, Germany. If anything, he is focused and hungry for more success.
“I feel like I have had some bright moments and some difficult ones but much of the important part of the season is still ahead of us and that is where my focus is,” Bryan said.
World Championships are his primary target. “My goals moving forward are the World Champs which has been my main goal the whole season,” Bryan said. “I would love to come away with a strong finish there.”
Bryan faded a little in the tough Sochi course, ceding five places to end up 15th in a time of 29:24.6. Yet, the result still shows improvement and the possibility for a breakthrough result.
“Much of the important part of the season is still ahead of us and that is where my focus is,” he said. “I think there is still a lot I want to accomplish and definitely enough events to do it in.”
Billy Demong also raced today, recovering from a 44th placed jump with a strong skiing leg, finishing 28th in a time of 31:05.3.
Demong admits he’s still getting a feel for the Olympic jump, saying, “We got a good look at the hill and I think it’s working really well for a couple of our guys. It’s clear to the rest of us what we need to work on the jump hill.”
Nevertheless, he’s confident not only in the team, but in his own abilities.
“I think our team physically prepares really well for big competitions,” he said. “My cross country form is coming and the Fletcher brothers are skiing really strong so I think we’re looking right now to get a peek here and get ready for this mentally.”
Nordic Combined action continues tomorrow with the team HS140/4×5 Km event.