Bryan Fletcher’s going to the Olympics and he’s not taking that for granted
Bryan Fletcher knows a thing or two about the high-stress race to make the U.S. Olympic Team, and he knows the crushing reality of coming up short.
This was before Fletcher became a fixture on the World Cup and the top U.S. skier on that circuit season in and season out; before he’d won one of those events; before he made the 2014 Olympic team and before he locked up his spot on the 2018 team on Saturday.
Fletcher was overjoyed to win the U.S. Nordic Combined Olympic Trials on Saturday in Park City, Utah, guaranteeing himself a spot on the team that will compete starting in February at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea with a 12.8-second victory over Adam Loomis. Ben Loomis was third, 29.6 seconds behind Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher was fourth, 1:07.7 back.
“It’s a huge relief,” Bryan Fletcher said. “I know I’m going to PyeongChang. I can focus on training and the process of building up to it from here on out, which is really awesome.”
As the top-scoring American on the World Cup circuit — the only scoring American — Fletcher was basically a lock to make the team. But he learned in 2010 not to take anything for granted.
He entered the 2009-10 winter confident he could qualify for the Olympic squad and seemingly first in line for that opportunity among a small group of young skiers looking to fill out the team behind medal-minded veterans Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong.
Fletcher was selected to fill one of the nation’s World Cup spots to start the season, an honor but one with a catch: he’d need to put up strong results on the circuit and it was of course considerably more difficult to do it on the World Cup than it would be on the Continental Cup, the minor league circuit of Nordic combined.
He needed a top-30 finish to score those points, but it continually eluded him. He was 41st in one competition, 39th in another and 50th after that.
Still, he was in a strong position heading into the holiday break.
“Everyone else got an opportunity at the World Cup and it looked like I was still shaking out to be the next best guy,” he said.
That started to change with the last competition of December when Brett Camerota jumped up for an 18th-place finish in a World Cup.
Then, in the second weekend of competition in January, Taylor Fletcher, Bryan’s younger brother of four years, finished 29th in a World Cup. An injury for Bryan helped seal the deal in the eyes of coaches and by late January, just two months after he’d started the season hoping to make the team, those dreams were officially dashed.
So no, making the Olympic team isn’t something Fletcher takes for granted, even when it seems like he’s a sure thing.
If it looked like it should be easy on paper Saturday, it proved anything but thanks to a lackluster jump.
Ben Loomis, fresh off a very strong weekend at a trio of Continental Cup events in Steamboat Springs, leaped out to a huge lead in the jumping portion. His older brother Adam Loomis started 56 seconds behind him in second, Ben Berend another 23 seconds back in third, Jasper Good at 1:21 behind Ben Loomis in fourth and finally Bryan Fletcher was fifth, 1:24 behind Loomis and Taylor Fletcher sixth, 1:54 back.
Bryan Fletcher worked his way up the pack slowly, careful to maintain his pace for a dual at the end.
“The goal was to try and make up time, but also have a little for the last lap,” he said.
He cut into Ben Loomis’s lead by 30 seconds in the first two laps, then another 30 seconds in the third, pulling within 10 seconds.
“I took a few deep breaths and pushed a little harder to catch him,” he said.
Adam Loomis clung to Fletcher for the jump, but neither of the Loomis brothers could hang on when Fletcher applied the heat in the final lap, skating away to win the race by a comfortable 12 seconds.
He’s going to Pyeong- Chang, no matter what anyone else does at the World Cups in January.
“I expected to be there and I knew I was capable even if I didn’t win this event, but to have that guarantee, to be named to the team, that’s a huge relief,” he said. “It’s just awesome. I’m so excited to be going and very excited to be a two-time Olympian.”
That 2010 team went on to be a legendary one and Camerota brought home a silver medal as a part of the U.S. team relay event.
He retired soon after.
It was a heartbreaking time, Fletcher said, not because of their success but because of the lack of his. Eight years later, however, he has no regrets.
“I was definitely disappointed, bummed out, but in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today if it wasn’t for missing that Olympics. Not making it was an opportunity to reevaluate my career and the path I wanted to go. I realized I really did want to be one of the best and be a competitive skier every year and the next year I came out motivated, took a tremendous step up and that was really the start of the World Cup career.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.