Taylor Fletcher crosses the Soldier Hollow finish line to celebrate his first national title at the L.L.Bean U.S. Nordic Combined Championships. (USSA-Sarah Brunson)
SOLDIER HOLLOW, UT (July 30, 2016) - Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO) broke away from the pack with a kilometer remaining to take his first national title at the L.L.Bean U.S. Nordic Combined Championship at Soldier Hollow. Brother Bryan Fletcher took silver with Ben Berend (Steamboat Springs, CO) earning bronze after leading the jump.
In the morning HS134 meter jump at the Utah Olympic Park, Berend threw down the gauntlet with a towering 125.0 meter jump to take a 17 second lead over Ben Loomis (Eau Claire, WI) of the Flying Eagles Ski Club who went 122.5 meters. Bryan Fletcher found himself 26 seconds back, with Adam Loomis (Eau Claire, WI) 52 seconds out, two seconds ahead of Taylor Fletcher.
"This is, by far, some of the best jumping we’ve had as a team," said Taylor Fletcher. "I had a rough trial and was able to get that away. (Jumping Coach) Nick (Huber) told me to just go for it and be aggressive. I was extremely happy to put together a good jump for the competition round. That makes my job easier on the cross country course."
Head Coach Dave Jarrett echoed the team strength on the jumps. "It was good to see everyone jumping pretty well. For us to be relatively close to the special jumpers is a good sign for July."
Ben Berend paved the way, leading in the morning jump. (USSA-Tom Kelly)
Young Stephen Schumann (Park City, UT) was a strong sixth. Jasper Good (Steamboat Springs, CO) had trouble with his jump and stood seventh, a minute, 49 seconds behind Berend.
Heading into the evening 10k cross country leg at Soldier Hollow, Taylor Fletcher knew he had to act quickly to get ahead of Adam Loomis. The four lap course featured the longer laps first and last, with shorter legs in the middle. Temperatures moderated a bit, but it was still a hot and steamy Utah evening on the grueling Olympic course.
"I’ve been skiing really strong all summer," added Fletcher. "I knew if I was fresher than the other guys I could put some time on the field on Hermod’s. I paid the price a little bit early on. When I caught Bryan and Ben I sat in a little bit - I hate to do that, but that’s how you win races."
The leaders are shoulder to shoulder heading into the final lap at the L.L.Bean U.S. Nordic Combined Championships. (USSA-Tom Kelly)
Taylor Fletcher went to work on Adam Loomis on lap one, putting in a gap and working way up to brother Bryan still 25 seconds ahead. Berend, meanwhile, set a strong pace but knew the Fletchers were coming. By mid race, the threesome had packed up and were screaming around the corners and staying evening on the uphills. Eventually, they all knew that the legendary Hermod’s would make it or break it.
On the final lap, brothers Fletcher broke ahead of Berend. Now it was just the two of them. On the final climb of Hermod’s, Taylor put on the gas and gapped out in front of his older brother. Coming into the finish, he jubilantly threw up his hands in victory - earning a first ever national title.
"It’s nice to have that title finally," said Fletcher. "The last few years I’ve been second or third, it’s a lot nicer to be on the top. I’m just ecstatic to say I’m national champion for the first time."
The event was a milestone, too, for Berend. “It was truly an incredible day,” he said. “I was really confident going into the jumping competition as that has always been my strength. So when I won the jumping, that’s when the nerves really set in.”
An established jumper, cross country has been a big training focus for the Steamboat Springs native. "Ben had a great race," added Jarrett. "He managed the cross country race well. He’s been working hard and deserves a good performance."
“This spring I sat down with many of my leaders such as Dave Jarrett (Head Coach), Jon Schafer (High Performance Director) and Dave Cieslowski (Physical Therapist). Between all these amazing people I got enough info to really formulate a plan to improve. It seemed like in the race, everything I’ve been working on just came together.”
Berend went out hard, turning a strong first lap time. He held his own through the midway point before he heard the Fletchers coming on hard.
“Going into the last hill I was still right with them,” said Berend. “For a slight moment a thought crossed into my mind, ‘I’m going to try and beat these guys.’ Pretty much at that second, the Bryan and Taylor absolutely took off and left me limping along in their dust. I feel like that result ywas a major barrier that I needed to break down. It was truly a dream come true to stand on that podium with my mentors and best friends.”
The L.L.Bean U.S. Nordic Combined Championships was the kickoff to what will be a busy August for the team. USA Nordic Sports is sending the entire team to Europe for training and Grand Prix competition. It's a vital step in an important World Championship season.