With the 2017/2018 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding North American nordic combined athletes.
At 31 years old, it’s safe to say U.S. Nordic Combined’s Bryan Fletcher has been a beneficiary of the axiom, “What comes around goes around”. What came around when Fletcher literally jumped and skied onto the scene in 2002 was a cadre of athletes setting the performance bar at a high level. Fletcher followed in the steps of Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, Brett Camerota, and Billy Demong. In his last season as a professional nordic-combined competitor, Fletcher had several standout performances but also allowed himself to bring some of the stability and veteran leadership he learned about years ago to a young U.S. Nordic Combined Team.
Fletcher was a rock for skiers like 19-year-old Ben Loomis, who earned a bronze at World Juniors. Loomis is one example, but the U.S. team as a whole, trends towards the younger side of twenty. With younger eyes on him as a mentor and athlete, Fletcher navigated performance disappointments and hiccups to score some standout performances on the Nordic Combined World Cup.
Fletcher entered 12 World Cups, 10 of which were individual races. In only one individual race did he place outside the top 30 (he finished 32nd on Dec. 1 in Val di Fiemme, Italy). Of his remaining individual races, Fletcher was out of the top 20 just one other time (placing 29th on Nov. 26 at the season-opener in Kuusamo, Finland).
Fletcher’s other eight races were all top 20’s. In Ramsau, Austria, he scored a seventh place. And in his last career World Cup on March 14 in Trondheim, Norway, Fletcher matched his season-best result with another seventh place.
One can hear any athlete say these weren’t exactly the results they were looking for. That would be true in Fletcher’s case as well. Yet he was more than consistent in terms of keeping himself within striking distance of several podiums. Those opportunities came most often from Fletcher’s skiing rather than his jumping. At season’s end, he was the 42nd-ranked overall jumper on the Nordic Combined World Cup. To prove our point, he was ranked the 15th-best skier. (Overall, he ranked 29th on the World Cup this season.)
Here are Fletcher’s best cross-country race times (in the 10-kilometer Gundersen starts) of the 2017-2018 World Cup season:
Nov. 25, Kuusamo, Finland: Fourth fastest time of day
Dec. 16, Ramsau, Austria: Second fastest time of day
Dec. 17, Ramsau: Third fastest time of day
Jan. 14, Val di Fiemme, Italy: Second fastest time of day
From a domestic perspective, Fletcher proved he’s still the best U.S. nordic combined athlete. During a high-pressure format — the only guaranteed U.S. Nordic Combined Olympic spot was reserved for the winner of U.S. Nordic Combined’s Olympic Trials on Dec. 30 in Park City, Utah — Fletcher found himself in fifth place after the jumping round. A full 1:24 minutes behind the best jumper Ben Loomis. Yet in typical fashion, Fletcher’s podium hunt on skis ended with a first place and a booked trip to PyeongChang for his second Olympic Games.
In both individual events in PyeongChang, Fletcher was the best American finisher, placing 17th twice.
For being the best-performing American nordic combined skier, Fletcher receives the nod for Nordic Combined skier of the year. But don’t forget, Fletcher is the whole package: in the 2017/2018 season, he was a leader, professional role model, and mentor to the young ones chasing his ski tails.