Billed as the premier nordic-combined event of the season, the first-ever Nordic Combined Triple ended up being a perfect platform for American Bryan Fletcher to produce his best results of the season. From Jan. 17-19 in Seefeld, Austria, there were three consecutive days of competition with a total of four competition jumps and three races of 5-, 10- and 15-kilometers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively.
“Simply put, I was happy with all three of my races this weekend,” Fletcher wrote in an email after he ended up a season-best fifth overall. “Each day I improved a bit and ended with perhaps my best performance on Sunday!”
He has plenty of reason to be happy, skiing his way to a season-best sixth in Friday’s opening prologue, ranking 11th in the jump and skiing the 16th -fastest 5 k to finish 25.2 seconds behind German winner Eric Frenzel, who won all three races for the Triple title.
Fletcher repeated his performance on Saturday, with the ninth-best jump and 10th-fastest 10 k time to place sixth (+57.4 behind Frenzel), and then improved one spot in Sunday’s pursuit-style competition to finish the weekend in fifth (+47.6), after the seventh-best jump and seventh-fastest 15 k.
It has been a season of steady improvement for Fletcher, with this weekend’s results in Seefeld putting him into 11th place in the overall World Cup standings, tied with Lukas Klapfer of Austria, which makes Fletcher the top-ranked North American.
Fellow U.S. Ski Team member Bill Demong also had a strong weekend, finishing a season-best eighth (+27.0) on Friday with a 17th ranked jump and a 12th-fastest ski, despite breaking a pole in the 5 k. On Saturday, Demong ended up 12th (+1:39.6), with the 20th -best jump and eighth-fastest ski. On Sunday, he wrapped up the Triple in 11th , after jumping to 22nd and starting the 15 k race 3:42 minutes back. Demong skied the third-fastest time of the day, making up nearly two minutes to finish 1:54.7 back from Frenzel. Demong’s strong results come despite some bad luck, with Friday’s broken pole “costing him a podium opportunity,” and a “not great” jump on Sunday putting him farther behind for the race.
“Even though I had my best race of the year on Sunday I was only able to move up to 11th place,” Demong wrote in an email. “I like that [the distances] changed every day but certainly my strength is in longer distances,” he continued. “It was awesome to do 15 k again, though!”
The weekend’s results put Demong into 22nd in the overall World Cup standings, tied with Austria’s Mario Stecher.
Frenzel won each race of the weekend and finished in first overall, extending his lead in the overall World Cup standings. Haavard Klemetsen of Norway finished second (+21.2) in the Triple and fellow Norwegian Magnus Moan placed third (+29.1).
Both Fletcher and Demong were pleased with the new race format.
“I like that it is different, it adds pressure with the mini-tour format I hope they continue offering new events like this,” Demong wrote, while Fletcher called it a “nice change of pace from our normal schedule.”
Both skiers also felt that the increased importance of skiing, due to the longer distances, catered to their strengths.
“The distance increase each day made the competitions progressively harder and allowed the stinger skiers to show their strength” Fletcher wrote in an email. “Each day it was easy for me to improve. Our training is concrete and so each day I felt better than the previous day.”
When asked how Seefeld’s results will translate to the coming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, both skiers became a bit more circumspect.
“I don’t think this weekend’s results are anything suggestive,” Fletcher wrote. “The Olympics are a different animal and anything can happen.”
Demong is cautiously optimistic, saying that preparations were going well. “I’ve had my best jumps in years, maybe ever, but I need to get it out in competition for sure. Cross country is going well and I’m looking forward to putting on the finishing touches and peaking!”
Both skiers are training in Park City, Utah, and will head to Germany shortly before the Olympics to train and break up the travel. They will focus on speed work to train and create a fitness peak just in time for the Olympics. They head to Sochi on Feb. 6th. Both men are optimistic, but Fletcher is the more cautious of the two.
“I think that the best is yet to come,” Demong wrote, “I like that, while I’m not the favorite, I’m on everyone’s radar.”
“We will just have to see what happens when we get there,” Fletcher wrote.
Americans Taylor Fletcher and Brett Denney competed on the first day of the Seefeld Triple, finishing in 56th (+1:54.5) and 63rd (+2:37.1), respectively, just outside the top 50 required to advance to Day 2.