Disappointment for U.S. as Nordic combined begins at 2018 Olympics
Steamboat Pilot and Today
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The opportunity was there, Bryan Fletcher said.
The race wasn’t.
After jumping to 18th position in Wednesday’s Nordic combined normal hill competition, the first Nordic combined event of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Fletcher probably wasn’t poised for a shot at the podium, but he felt he could contend for a top-10 finish.
Instead, he moved up just one spot, to 17th.
It was the best result Wednesday night for the United States in Nordic combined and it was a personal best for Fletcher, competing in his second Olympics and getting his third start in an Olympic event. His previous best was 22nd in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling the Nordic combined opener was an opportunity missed.
“I’m a little disappointed. I had a little higher hopes going into today, but the cards didn’t line up,” he said.
Germany’s Eric Frenzel laid down a furious move on the final hill of the 10-kilometer ski race, just behind the stadium at the Alpensia Cross-Country Ski Centre in Pyeongchang. He dumped Japan’s Akito Wantabe on that slope, then cruised for his second individual Olympic medal, successfully defending his gold in the same event in Sochi.
“It was quite a hard race because the wind on the track (for the cross-country) was not so easy and my goal was to push really hard the last round, the last meters and the last uphill,” Frenzel said. “At the end, the only way was to go in front and make my own race. I’m really, really happy about this victory today.”
Wantabe ended up second, a second silver medal in the same event and coming behind the same dominating German.
Austria’s Lukas Klapfer finished third for bronze.
Taylor Fletcher was 35th for the United States in his third Olympics and fourth individual Olympic start, and the two skiers making their first Olympic starts, Wisconsin’s Ben Loomis, and Steamboat’s Jasper Good, were 41st and 45h respectively.
“It’s a career goal to compete in the Olympics, so to some degree that’s something I’m super pumped about, but I definitely didn’t have my best performance on the jump hill, so I wasn’t super satisfied with that,” Good said. “Overall, I had a blast competing today.”
“It’s my first Olympics and I’m one of the younger guys so I’m looking to take it all in, learn from his and gain as much experience as I can for Olympics four and eight years from now,” Loomis said.
The Fletchers, both brothers from Steamboat Springs, were frustrated with their cross-country race. Both often end up with top-10 ski times in World Cup races, but Taylor Fletcher, year-in and year-out one of the fastest skiers on the circuit, had the 15th-best time.
Bryan Fletcher, who’s established himself as a very strong cross-country skier in recent seasons, had the 22nd-best time.
“It was a mix between thinking the skis weren’t so great and me going a little too hard at the beginning,” Taylor Fletcher said. “I think it was more me.”
Taylor Fletcher jumped to 39th and ended up starting right behind Italy’s Alessandro Pittin, another of the fastest skiers on the World Cup. They hung together early in the race, but Fletcher wondered later if he burned up too much energy in that effort.
Pittin went on to ski from 38th to 19th. Fletcher went from 38th to 34th.
“I actually went past him and led going up the hill and back into the stadium, but I think it put me on edge a little too much too early,” he said.
Bryan Fletcher started the ski race 2 minutes, 6 seconds behind the jump leader, Franz-Josef Rehrl, who laid down a monster jump to lead all racers by 15 seconds.
Fletcher was within a minute of 8th place, however, and hoping he could make up that ground.
Frenzel, who jumped to fifth, Klapfer, fourth, Watabe, third and Jarl Riiber quickly pulled together, caught Rehrl and skied much of the race together, ensuring no one from deeper in the field would challenge for the podium.
Fletcher found out very quickly he wouldn’t likely be able to challenge for that top-10 finish, either. Two skiers started within three seconds in front of him, and he couldn’t catch up.
“Maybe we didn’t have our best skis today,” Bryan Fletcher said. “That made it really difficult. Immediately out of the start I knew it would be a really hard day. I dug deep and am happy with how I managed that. Positive takeaways, the jump hill was really good. I know I can be in the fight there and I know with better skis I can be in the fight in cross country. We’ll refocus and look forward to next week.”
The Nordic combined competitions resume with the large hill individual event Tuesday and the team relay Feb. 22.