Nordic Worlds Features A Mix Of Veterans And Youth For Team USA, Eager To Make A Mark Before The Olympics

By Karen Price | Feb. 22, 2017, 4:57 p.m. (ET)

A veteran squad, and one that U.S. cross-country skiing coach Chris Grover called the strongest the United States has ever had for a major championship, begins its quest for medals at the FIS 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships this week in Lahti, Finland.

The women’s cross-country team includes three former world championship medalists and eight of the nine are former world championship team members and Olympians. Five of the eight men have prior world championship experience, and four are Olympians.

In addition to cross-country skiing, the Nordic world championships also include competition in Nordic combined and ski jumping. Here’s a look at Team USA’s prospects.

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Diggins, Randall Highlight Experienced Women’s Cross-Country Crew

Jessie Diggins heads to the event ranked fifth in the world cup standings. In 2015, the last time she competed at worlds, she won silver in the 10-kilometer freestyle and in 2013 she and Kikkan Randall, who’ll be making her ninth world championships appearance this year, won gold in the team sprint. This season Diggins, 25, finished fifth at the Tour de Ski, tying the best finish ever in the event by an American, and has been on the world cup podium three times.

Caitlin Gregg won bronze at the 2015 world championships in the 10K. Sadie Bjornsen is ranked 17th on the world cup leaderboard and also reached the podium during the Tour de Ski.

They will be joined by Rosie Brennan, Sophie Caldwell, Chelsea Holmes, Ida Sargent and Liz Stephen. Of them, only Holmes will be competing at worlds for the first time. Caldwell, Sargent and Stephen were all on the world cup podium at the Olympic test event earlier this month.

 

Olympians Hamilton, Newell Lead XC Men

Two-time Olympian Simi Hamilton leads the charge for the men’s squad. Ranked 34th in the world cup standings, Hamilton earned his fourth career world cup podium in the freestyle sprint in January.

Andy Newell, a three-time Olympian, will be making his eighth world championships appearance, second only to Randall.

They are joined by Kyle Bratrud, Olympian Erik Bjornsen, Tad Elliott, Olympian Noah Hoffman, Ben Lustgarten and Cole Morgan.

The cross-country events include freestyle sprint, 10K classic (women), 15K classic (men), 4x5K relay (women), 4x10K relay (men), 30K women’s and 50K men’s freestyle mass start. The rosters for each event will be decided the night before.

 

Two Sets Of Brothers Aim For Nordic Combined Titles

While the squad that represents the United States in Nordic combined and ski jumping features a mix of veterans and newcomers, the scale tips more toward the side of the newcomers. Eleven athletes will be competing, including six who will be making their world championship debuts, and six who are 22 or younger.

In Nordic combined, Olympian Bryan Fletcher, 30, will be competing in his fifth world championships since 2007, making him the most experienced member of Team USA. In early January, he had his best weekend of skiing all season at the same venue where the world championships will take place, placing 15th and 16th over two days at the Nordic combined world cup event in Lahti. Fletcher finished fifth in the 2015 world championships, his best result, and is currently ranked 34th in the world.

He is joined by younger brother and 2010 Olympian Taylor Fletcher, as well as Ben Berend and another pair of brothers, Adam and Ben Loomis.

Taylor Fletcher, 26, will be making his fourth trip to the world championships and is ranked 48th in the world. Berend competed in the 2015 world championships and finished 45th. He was third in the 2016 U.S. national championships.

At just 18 years old, Ben Loomis is transitioning to the senior team from a successful junior career. He won a silver medal at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games and was ninth at the 2017 junior world championships in the normal hill/5K.

His brother, Adam Loomis, 24, will also be going to the world championships for the first time.

Nordic combined includes two individual events, a four-man team event and a two-man team sprint.

 

Veterans Hendrickson, Englund Ready To Soar In Women’s Ski Jumping

In women’s ski jumping, 24-year-old Nita Englund and 22-year-old Sarah Hendrickson will compete at the world championships each for the second time. Hendrickson, a 2014 Olympian, returned this season after missing 15 months recovering from knee surgery. She is the last American to medal at the world championships, winning gold in 2013. Englund finished a season-best seventh at a world cup event earlier this month. 

Women’s ski jumping will have one individual event. There will also be a mixed-gender team event.

 

More Youth Rises For Men’s Ski Jumping

Of the four men ski jumpers, only Will Rhoads has world championship experience, having gone in 2015. Just 21 years old, 2012 Youth Olympian Rhoads had 15th and 19th-place finishes in January at the Continental Cup and is a two-time U.S. large hill national champion.

He is joined by three teammates going to worlds for the first time.

Of the four, Michael Glasder is the oldest at 27. This month he recorded his longest jump at 209 meters and was fourth at the U.S. large hill nationals in August 2016. He was the 2015 U.S. champion and has two top-30 world cup finishes so far in the month of February.

Kevin Bickner is ranked 43rd in the world. The 20-year-old has three top-30 finishes this season and was the USSA 2016 Ski Jumping Athlete of the Year.

Casey Larson, 18, rounds out the men’s squad. He is still a junior but was eighth in the recent USANA FIS Nordic Junior World Championships and sixth at last year’s Youth Olympics.

Men’s ski jumping will have two individual events and a four-man team event.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.