Jump, ski, repeat. That was the mantra in Park City and Midway, Utah, this weekend as some of the world’s best nordic-combined athletes converged for a series of three Continental Cup races. Continental Cups are a stepping stone for some athletes on their way to the World Cup; it’s also an opportunity for already accomplished World Cup skiers to maintain race fitness and keep their jumping dialed.
All three of the competitions Friday, Dec. 11, through Sunday, Dec. 13, involved a normal-hill jump at Utah Olympic Park followed by a 10-kilometer ski race at Soldier Hollow.
Day 1: Taylor Fletcher Third
With a break in the Nordic Combined World Cup schedule, many skiers from Europe were in Park City. That was evident from the results on Friday, Dec. 11.
Austria’s David Pommer, who finished in 26:15, narrowly beat teammate Bernhard Flaschberger by 0.2 seconds at the line. The Austrians captured five of the top six places, with U.S. Nordic Combined skier Taylor Fletcher finishing third, 37 seconds after Pommer.
Starting the day on the normal hill, Japanese high-school student Hisaki Nagamine, 18, recorded the longest jump of 97.5 meters. American Ben Berend leapt to fourth, while teammates Jasper Good ranked 10th and Ben Loomis jumped to 13th.
Fletcher jumped 88.5 meters to rank 14th going into the 10 k. Pommer tied for the fifth-longest jump at 95.5 meters.
Fletcher started the race a minute and 20 seconds back. At the race’s mid-point, Fletcher bridged up to Pommer and Flaschberger. At the finish line, the 25-year-old Fletcher held off Austria’s Franz-Josef Rehrl to take third place, with the third-fastest ski time. Nagamine did not finish the race.
Overall the U.S. team had a solid day. Five Americans finished in the top 16 with six Americans in the top 30. Michael Ward, originally from Aspen, Colo., placed 10th (up from 25th in the jump with the seventh-fastest 10 k).
Berend, 20, and Good, 19, both from Steamboat Springs, Colo., completed their best Continental Cup races to date in 12th and 13th, respectively. Seventeen-year-old Loomis, of Eau Claire, Wis., placed 16th.
Day 2: Two-peat for Austria’s Pommer; 4 Americans in Top 10
The result sheet tells the story: Pommer maintained his lead in the overall Continental Cup standings by 60 points over Taylor Fletcher by winning again. Pommer jumped to seventh then skied to first, winning the event in 24:20.1.
But unlike Friday’s competition, with the Austrians clogging most of the top six, Fletcher took second just 0.1 seconds back from the win. Loomis captured a career-best fourth — missing the podium by four seconds. Italy’s Armin Bauer placed third (+46.1).
Ward finished the day in sixth with the third-fastest time, behind Fletcher with the fastest time of the day, and Berend placed eighth for a new career-best.
The jump leader again was Nagamine. He set the longest jump at 96.5 meters. He was followed in second by Norway’s Audun Hokholt. Jumping highlights for the Americans were two-fold. Loomis jumped to third (96 meters) and Berend ranked fourth (94 meters), putting them in podium contention while starting the race 8 and 24 seconds after Nagamine, respectively.
On the other hand, Fletcher jumped to 19th and Ward ranked 20th heading into the race. Fletcher needed to close a one-minute-and-40-second gap, while Ward started another 2 seconds later.
“I decided I had to go for it. I wanted to ski easy the first lap or so and make up some time but not push the pace too much,” Fletcher said in a USSA press release. “I did that and was making up 16 seconds a lap, which is pretty good, but I just ran out of real estate. But I can’t be disappointed in that because I skied tactically almost a perfect race.”
Pommer, confident after Friday’s victory, knew Fletcher could overcome almost any deficit.
“I fought from the beginning by running a really good pace, but my coaches kept telling me Taylor was getting closer and closer,” Pommel said in the press release. “At the finish line, I was very lucky with my win — I’m glad it wasn’t one more meter. There was never any contact until the finish and I thought, ‘run, run.’ ”
Nagamine finished 22nd (+2:40.8).
Day 3 Park City NoCo: Fletcher’s Moment
The third-and-final day of Continental Cup NoCo scene in Park City was a flip flop.
Apparently Fletcher needed a challenge. He again began the day behind: on this day it was a 1:16 deficit to Pommer.
Again, the athlete with the longest ride was Nagamine, jumping 96 meters. But Pommer, proving his all-around skills, ranked second in the jump and notably tied with Berend with a 94-meter jump. The two started the 10 k together, 14 seconds back from the Japanese leader. Fletcher’s distance from the front was the result of a middle-of-the-pack jump: he rode 86.5 meters to rank 17th. In addition to Berend, Loomis also started ahead of Fletcher after jumping to sixth (91.5 meters) and starting 30 seconds back.
The cloudy conditions at Soldier Hollow kept the ski tracks firm and fast. Fletcher took advantage. (Remember, he had 1:16 to make up and catch Pommer). He pushed it from the start, ticking off one competitor after another. On the third of five laps, Fletcher had skied into second.
By then, Pommer was off the front solo. With three kilometers remaining, the time back to Fletcher remained 25 seconds. That time gap, in that distance, became a grind-it-out time trial for Fletcher.
And roughly 2.8 kilometers later, Fletcher could draft right behind Pommer. Rounding the tight 180-degree corner before the finish, the two skiers sprinted for the line.
“It’s so tight in that final corner. It’s great snow but it’s also icy. Trying to keep that ski under you is difficult,” Fletcher recalled in a press release. “I chose that wide line to carry a little bit more speed knowing he was going to want the center and try to block me. I knew if I took that wider line I would have a lot more speed.”
With the sprint on, Fletcher toed just ahead of Pommer, beating the Austrian by a tenth of a second in 23:37.3. Once again, Nagamine finished 22nd (+2:45.7).
“I’m not known for my sprinting, but I put in a hell of a sprint and I’m proud of it,” Fletcher said after posting the fastest 10 k time en route to the victory.
“Taylor was skiing so well, so fast, he deserved to win,” Pommer said in the press release. “Second place is more than good. Today there was no strategy, it was just running for survival. I just keep saying ‘push your limits, push your limits.’”
This was the fourth-career Continental Cup victory for Fletcher. More importantly, Fletcher’s three podiums during the Park City Continental Cups have earned the U.S. a fifth quota spot on the World Cup.
The U.S. had four skiers in the top 15 and six in the points. Berend placed sixth, and Ward finished 12th with the fourth-fastest ski time. Good raced up to 15th (from starting 20th) and Loomis finished 21st.
Local 15-year-old junior, Stephen Schumann, of the Utah Olympic Park Sports Club, scored points in the top 30 in all three races — his first-ever Continental Cup events — placing 25th on Friday, 27th on Saturday and 26th on Sunday.
The Nordic Combined World Cup resumes Dec. 19-20 in Ramsau, Austria, with two more normal hill/10 k competitions. Fletcher currently trails Pommer by 40 points in the overall Continental Cup standings.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.