It was a rough year for U.S. Nordic combined athletes, culminating with a disappointing showing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Now the United States Ski and Snowboard Association's (USSA) funding for the sport has been eliminated.
"We found out yesterday," 23-year-old Taylor Fletcher said. "They planned four years ago to re-evaluate all the sports and they decided that even though we have world championship medalists and Olympic medalists, we don't have the potential to grow as a sport."
As Fletcher noted, it was just four years ago, at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, that Team USA came home with four medals, including Billy Demong's gold.
Demong won the gold medal in the individual large hill/10-kilometer event, with Johnny Spillane taking silver. Spillane also took silver in the individual normal hill/10K event. The U.S. team of Demong, Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota took silver in the team large hill/4x5K competition as well.
For Fletcher, who is one of the sport's up-and-comers, the news was tough to take.
"We had a tough year last year, but it kind of feels like a slap in the face right now," he said. "Now we have to go out and fundraise and try to get our own money."
"It's definitely something that there's been a precedent with other programs," U.S. Nordic combined head coach Dave Jarrett said. "We're not the biggest program, so we always knew it was a possibility."
Luke Bodensteiner, the USSA vice president of athletics, said that the organization would look at different funding models for Nordic combined.
"What we've decided is we will create an opportunity for sponsors and donors to fund specifically behind Nordic combined," he said. "We'll spend those funs as we receive them."
The total funding for the Nordic combined program usually ranges between $580,000 and $650,000 in a year, something Jarrett said will be greatly missed.
"Those are the total budget numbers," he said. "It includes everything from programming for a full year of training, training camps, comps, a full World Cup season and a good portion of the Continental Cup season, as well as equipment, wax, salaries for coaches everything. That's the total budget to run it on an annual basis. Compared to some other countries, that's not that much. But we've done a lot with what we've been given and we appreciate the support we've gotten."
Though athletes like Fletcher, his brother Bryan and Demong could still potentially receive around $40,000 to $50,000 per year via direct athlete support from USSA, that money likely won't be enough to support a full season and keep the coaching staff in tact. Thus, Jarrett said the sport is pursuing other avenues of funding based on models of other organizations like Ski Jumping USA and Women's Ski Jumping USA. The National Nordic Foundation will also continue to be used as a way to raise funds for both cross country and Nordic combined.
"Some strategic alliances could be formed to make each sport better," Jarrett said. "But it's all been preliminary discussions at this point. We're gathering all our core stakeholders and gathering information and evaluating what path we're going to pursue. We're going to be done with that sooner than later, though, because we need to get going down a path."
There is a precedent for this sort of thing, however, Bodensteiner said, pointing out a few examples of sports with only direct athlete support.
"We went in the same direction with ski jumping, parallel snowboarding and skicross after Vancouver," he said. "It's not ideal for anybody, but it hasn't been an ineffective model, either."
The Nordic combined athletes are still training in anticipation of participating in a full World Cup/World Championships schedule, according to Jarrett.
In a tweet to ESPN.com Olympic sports writer Bonnie Ford, Taylor Fletcher said, "Still have my eye on 2018 Gold! #cantstopwontstop".
"It's tough I'm pretty torn up about it," he told The Park Record. "But I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing and count on having enough money to compete."