In a post-Olympic season which saw U.S. veteran Billy Demong take a step back before his ultimate retirement, it was time for the new guard to continue to make their own way.
Taylor Fletcher did just that, garnering his first podium since 2013 in Sapporo, Japan, where he skied from 28th after the jump in the large hill 10 k all the way up to third place.
“To get another podium feels incredible as I knew it was possible,” Fletcher commented at the time. “My last podium [two seasons ago in Seefeld, Austria] was not a fluke. I have been struggling with my jumping for a year and half now but in the last couple weeks it has been getting better.”
Fletcher also placed fifth in the large hill 10 k in Chaux Neuve, France, earlier in the winter. He won a Continental Cup in Ramsau, Austria. And he contributed to four top-ten team performances, including fifth in a World Cup 4 x 5 k team event also in Ramsau.
That’s the kind of success that shows that U.S. Nordic Combined isn’t as down and out as its governing body, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, once assumed that it was. Last spring, USSA defunded nordic combined almost completely. They reinstated some fundraising opportunities in late summer.
At the time, head coach Dave Jarrett said it was because, contrary to what some might believe, the retirements of 2010 Olympic heroes Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick didn’t at all mean the end for the program.
“They didn’t give us a chance to show that we have this many U16s and U18s and U20s in our pipeline and that our sport is alive … and on a per-capita basis we’re doing a lot with our athletes,” Jarrett said in September.
At 24 years old, Fletcher has much more in the tank, and is searching for Championships medals – which he was denied in Falun, Sweden, this year – and to continually raise U.S. nordic combined to new levels.
“I’m probably the most competitive guy out here,” Fletcher told FasterSkier in Falun. “I yelled at guys in the track earlier because I just wanted to go. I can’t settle for something. I want it more and more and I’m going to work my ass off to get it.”
Taylor’s brother Bryan Fletcher had a strong season of his own.
“I am very happy for him and even more excited to have [U.S. Nordic Combined] back on the podium,” Bryan told FasterSkier after Taylor’s podium in Sapporo, where Bryan also placed eighth. “We have been chipping away at the podium for quite some time now so it nice to finally land one. Hopefully we can continue to fight for the podium in the next events in [Val di Fiemme, Italy].”
While his brother landed 27th in the World Cup standings, Bryan’s more consistent success took him to 15th place. He turned in six different individual top-ten performances over the course of the season.
He also had the top American result in Falun, Sweden, for World Championships: fifth place in the large hill competition, which Taylor said was the best result since 2009.
With years of experience under his belt, Bryan is already leading the team into the future along with his brother. No longer cautious, he knows that when it’s all on the line, you have to go for it.
“Today, I came into jumping in attack mode,” Fletcher recalled after the World Championships large hill competition. “It was like, ‘Well since these are the Championships, and it’s not really worth being anything but on the podium, I’m just going to go for it as hard as possible and lay it all out there.’ ”