Taylor Fletcher finishes summer Grand Prix strong
Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colorado) put in two strong cross-country performances to record 18th and ninth-place finishes in a pair of FIS Nordic Combined Summer Grand Prix events in Oberstdorf, Germany, Friday and Saturday. Norway’s 18-year-old sensation Jarl Magnus Riiber remained unbeatable, taking two easy victories.
In Friday’s competition, Riiber carried over a one-minute lead after the jump. Fletcher, meanwhile, was 29th in the jump and over two minutes back. Ben Berend (Steamboat Springs) and Youth Olympic Games medalist Ben Loomis (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) were 15th and 16th in the jump.
“The level of jumping is so high right now because of one guy,” said Fletcher of Riiber. “He is the best jumper in all of Norway and could easily be the top guy on the ski jumping World Cup. That being said, to only start 2:50 behind him is somewhat a success. In the meantime, we are going to continue to jump and work on the technical aspects of jumping to close that gap down.”
In the roller ski segment, Fletcher put down the fourth-fastest time to move up to 18th. Loomis ended up 32nd, with Berend 35th.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best roller-ski race,” he said. “I felt weak from the start and I don’t know if it was the skis I had or my body. I know I didn’t have the best roller skis as I was losing ground on the downhill and, being a bigger guy on the tour, that shouldn’t really happen.”
The Grand Prix uses a lottery system for skis, with each athlete essentially picking a random number and being assigned to a pair of roller skis.
“The variation in the skis can be big as some aren’t the straightest or fastest, but there is nothing I can do about that,” said Fletcher. “I tried hard to push the pace and make up time, but I may have pushed a little hard in laps two and three. I actually hit the wall physically on lap four, but somehow I was able to regain some strength and catch my group again and be in the mix for the rest of the race. On the last lap, I didn’t have the legs on the final climb and I just lost the front of the group at the bottom.”
In Saturday’s finale, Riiber again led by nearly a second after the jump. Berend was 12th but still two minutes back. Fletcher again found himself with nearly a three-minute gap to close, and had challenges on the roller skis but still came in ninth.
“Today was another solid competition,” said Fletcher. “Jumping again was on a high level even though I only went 113.5 meters. Riiber is on a different planet and it is fun to watch him jump. With better timing I would have had a much further jump, but I can’t look back and be too disappointed with my performances this weekend. I showed that I am jumping much better and still skiing fast which is great, as Nordic combined can be a give and take issue. The more you work on one side the harder it is to keep form on the other skill.”
Fletcher was pleased with his roller ski effort, moving up steadily to catch the main pack.
“I was hoping to get some help but it seemed that no one really wanted to contribute to the work,” he said. “At that point it was just a little too big of a gap to think about trying to catch them with only a few laps left. From there, I focused on making it to the line first in my group and winning the sprint. Thankfully I had some energy to stay with the group up the last hill and the come around them at the finish!”
Fletcher finished the four-event Grand Prix in 15th, despite being disqualified on a suit violation in the second event early last week in Villach, Austria.
“This was a solid trip coming away with good progress on the hill and in competitions,” he said. “This is great motivation for the winter.”
“The Summer Grand Prix was a very positive test for us, having not been in Europe at all until the SGP,” said Head Coach Dave Jarrett. “Taylor showed that he is one of the fastest guys and his jumping is on a personal high and consistent level.”
Jarrett was also pleased with the progress of the younger athletes. “It was a big revelation with Ben Berend and Ben Loomis on the jumping hill,” he added. “Both were consistently top-20 jumpers in all comps. We have something to build from in these young guys.”
The team was without Bryan Fletcher for the week, who was home with wife Nikki for the birth of their first child.
“I feel Bryan would have been fighting for top 10 in jumping and high overall rankings,” said Jarrett. “Adam [Loomis] continues to work hard and is looking for better form. And our young guy, Stephen Schumann (Park City) showed his ability on the World Cup level as well and he has a bright future.”
It was Schumann’s first major international competition.
The dominance of Riiber, as well as the recent rules changes to make distance points in jumping more valuable, was of concern to Jarrett.
“Jarl Riiber is jumping on a very high level,” said Jarrett. “He is splitting the field in every competition. And with the new rules changes, it became solely a race for second and third.”
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