Snow blankets the nordic and alpine complex at Ruka, outside the Lapland city of Kuusamo in northern Finland.
RUKA, Finland (Nov. 25, 2016) - The snow-covered nordic center at Ruka is ready to go for this weekend's FIS Nordic Combined World Cup opener. The USA will have a field of three for the two days of competition, including Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, plus Ben Berend (all Steamboat Springs, CO).
As the season opens, German Eric Frenzel is looking for an unprecedented fifth straight title.But he will be challenged by a young Norwegian who surprised with his strength in the summer Grand Prix, Jarl Magnus Riiber.
"I am looking forward to the weekend," said Bryan Fletcher, a new father. "It's shaping up to be exciting as usual. Hopefully with the new track system and wind nets on the hill we will be able to hold some nice competitions. Personally I am just looking to start this weekend with a solid performance on the jump hill and race track. I am not looking to do anything special or extraordinary but I hope to start at a good level and build from there. We will see how the weekend shapes up!"
Wind has been a challenge in the past at the Ruka venue with both events being canceled last year. The wind nets hopefully will help manage winds that could impact the flow of the competition. The new nets block 270 degrees of wind, but are still susceptible to headwinds. The venue also has a new inrun. The team arrived Sunday and has had plenty of time to settle into the atmosphere.
"It is crazy how fast the summer seemed to go, but I am confident that I got good training and have improved in many aspects," said Taylor Fletcher. "Jumping was my main focus for sure this summer as I am confident in my cross country. I knew that I had some room to give on the cross country side and a lot of room to gain on the jumping hill. Nik, Martin and Dave have done a fantastic job making sure training is balanced."
Brother Taylor Fletcher also expressed concerns on weather, but was ready for the World Cup to begin.
"I am looking forward to the first competitions and starting strong for sure. Kuusamo can always be a crazy place with the wind and temps, but I am relaxed and ready to give it my all. We had a solid session to get used to the hill and I was happy with how it went. Cross country seems pretty solid as well, so I am hoping to jump like I have been and continue to move up with the races."
The U.S. team is rounded out by Berend, who has established himself as one of the team's top jumpers.
"You never know in the first competition how the rest of the field is doing," said Head Coach Dave Jarrett. "I think we are prepared and ready to go. It’s going to be new kind of jumping competition with Jarl at such a high level. He has shown all summer that he is among the best ski jumpers both in Norway and internationally. It will be very interesting to see how his level on the jumping hill plays out in the race. The jury will and the rest of the field will have some work to do."
The Kilparata Race Course features a 2.5k loop and total climb of 83 meters. The skiers will take four laps in the 10k cross country finals each day.
The entire weekend schedule will be live streamed on nbcsports.com.