Tara Geraghty-Moats, Taylor Fletcher earn wins at Park City Continental Cup
The U.S. Nordic combined team showed its strength at its home base on Wednesday and Thursday, with its athletes garnering podium finish in two of the four Continental Cup competitions held at the Utah Olympic Park and Jeremy Ranch.
Park City resident Taylor Fletcher took fourth in Wednesday’s competition after being squeezed out of the front of the pack in the final push to the finish. Lukas Runggaldier of Italy took first with a time of 25 minutes, 35.8 seconds, followed by Paul Gerstgraser of Austria (+1.4 seconds) and Julian Schmid of Germany (+1.7), with Fletcher finishing two seconds behind the leader.
Fletcher said it had been a difficult race, as high winds added an extra variable.
“It was pretty tough though, because it felt good going into the (finish) hill, I just couldn’t find a line to get through so lost that podium position,” he said. “But today makes up for it for sure.”
On Wednesday, Fletcher’s jump put him in 12th at the start of the cross-country portion of the race.
Ryota Yamamoto of Japan had jumped to starting position 1:35 ahead of Fletcher, but by the end of the first lap Fletcher had nearly caught him. The American had moved up to second place. By the third lap, Fletcher had passed Yamamoto, and by lap four, Fletcher had put 34 seconds between him and Yamamoto, who had fallen in with a group of chasing competitors. Fletcher crossed the finish with a time of 23:21.5, which was 30.2 seconds ahead of German’s Julian Schmid, who edged out Yamamoto in a finish-line sprint by 0.2 seconds.
“I got to ski how I wanted to ski,” Fletcher said. “Even though I started a minute and a half behind the leader, I was only 30 seconds to the real group. Yamamoto is a great skier but it’s so hard, if you’re not one of the top skiers, to ski on your own. You have to be good with your pacing and be long and smooth on this course. It’s not a technically hard course but it’s hard in that there’s no rest.”
Fletcher was coming off of a good week in Steamboat where he finished first and second over the two competitions.
“My overall goal is World Championships, but you have to have building steps along the way,” he said. “Steamboat was a step in the right direction and I was glad to continue it out here.”
Jared Shumate has been one of the mens team’s surprises this season, Fletcher said.
The 19-year-old Parkite finished sixth and seventh during the two races in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In Park City, he took 22nd on Wednesday and 19th on Thursday
After Thursday’s race, Shumate said last season he competed for spots just outside of 30th place, while this year he is shooting for top 10s and top 20s. He said he’s “happy” to see the improvement.
“This is only the fourth race of the year, but it was definitely harder than the last couple races,” he said. “Pretty much the entire race there’s no rest at all. You’re either skiing or losing time. So you always have to choose to ski in those situations.”
Shumate’s goal this season is to place highly in Junior World Championships in Finland in January, and said he felt the continental cups were good preparation.
“It’s good to see the other juniors here and see where we fall in,” he said. “Some days (I’m) faster than others, but the goal is to be faster than everybody else in January.”
In the nascent women’s category, Tara Geraghty-Moats has started off her season with three strong performances.
After taking first place twice in Steamboat to open the season, Geraghty-Moats raced to another win in Park City on Wednesday. The competition used a provisional jump from earlier in the week, after Wednesday’s jumping was canceled because of wind.
Germany’s Jenny Nowak had the farthest jump on Wednesday, giving her a 55-second lead over Geraghty-Moats at the start of the cross-country leg.
Geraghty-Moats overtook Nowak halfway through the 5K race, and finished out the race with a time of 15:30.1 – 13.7-second lead over Nowak, and 1:14.8 ahead of the second-pace finisher, Taylor Henrich of Canada.
That race took a toll on Geraghty-Moats, who didn’t compete on Thursday after she came down with bronchitis Wednesday night.
“As an athlete, sometimes you compete when you’re not feeling 100 percent,” she said. “And I felt like I managed (illness) pretty well up until it got the best of me, and I’m really happy with my performances.
“Just stoked to do Nordic combined.”
Geraghty-Moats is currently second in the overall Continental Cup leaderboard after Norway’s Gyda Westvold Hansen took first on Thursday (14:27.2). Following Westvold Hansen in Thursdays race was Jenny Nowak of Germany (+13.7) and Taylor Henrich of Canada (+1:14.8).
Geraghty-Moats said she is looking forward to an upcoming Continental Cup in Otepää, Estonia, on Jan. 5, when the women’s competitions will be held alongside a men’s Nordic combined World Cup.
“That’s really exciting the women’s Nordic combined continental cup will be in the same venue, same time, same place as the men’s World Cup for Nordic combined,” she said, adding that it would hopefully help cast women’s participation in the sport in a favorable light as its proponents seek an Olympic debut.
“I’m really happy with how women’s Nordic combined is growing over these first couple of years; that it’s really been an international competition,” she said. “So, just one step at a time.”
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It’s been a rough season for Park City, but a taste of the postseason could pay huge dividends in the future.