Taylor Fletcher jumps during the men's individual Gundersen normal hill/10 km Nordic combined training on day four of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on Feb. 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Headlined by veteran and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong, a talented team of Nordic combined skiers enters the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games eager to climb the podium. Joining Demong are brothers Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher, and Olympic silver medalist Todd Lodwick.
The U.S. Nordic combined team arrived in Sochi with high expectations, as the team made history at the Vancouver Games by winning the country’s first Olympic medals (one gold, three slivers) in the sport. Leading the pack in 2010 was Demong, who nabbed the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined.
While Demong is one of eight U.S. Olympians defending their gold medals in Sochi, Lodwick enters Sochi as the first American to make his sixth appearance at an Olympic Winter Games. In addition to his record-breaking longevity, Lodwick was selected by his peers to represent the United States as the flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Games.
“It was the experience of my life,” Lodwick said of carrying his country’s flag. “The American flag represents so much, so to be voted on by the athletes themselves was a true honor.”
But getting to the Olympic Games didn’t come without challenges for Lodwick. In January, the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion was competing in France and sustained a serious injury to his left shoulder. After weeks of rehabilitation and working with a psychologist, Lodwick is feeling good and mentally ready for competition.
Rounding out Team USA’s Nordic combined skiers are determined newcomers Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher. After battling and overcoming cancer as a child, Bryan Fletcher has had many successes leading into the Sochi Games. Most notably, he left his mark with a victory at the famed 2012 Holmenkollen King’s Cup in Oslo, Norway. He continued to garner top-15 results and will prove be a top contender for individual and team podium spots in Sochi. Bryan Fletcher is one of the team’s strongest jumpers, putting him in prime position as he approaches the cross-country portion of the competition.
“After Vancouver, I realized I needed to focus more on the jumping side,” said Bryan Fletcher, whose experience as a volunteer forejumper – someone who tests jumps on hills prior to official competition – led to a more balanced approach.
His younger brother, Taylor Fletcher, is considered one of the fastest cross-country skiers in the world and will be an asset in the team event. Taylor Fletcher feels comfortable competing on any surface, including that at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Sochi.
"We've got good skis, I don't mind. Make it as tough as possible and I'll be ready for it. Anytime a course is challenging, it makes me able to use my cross-country skills and hopefully move up to the podium," he said.
Nordic combined events are comprised of a single ski jumping competition and a 10-kilometer cross-country race. Points are scored for distance and style in the ski jumping portion of the competition. The skiers or teams with the most points start first in the cross-country portion, followed by the next best jumper or relay after a gap, which reflects the difference in the jumping scores.
After a dominant breakthrough performance in Vancouver, the sky is the limit for the U.S. Nordic combined team. When asked whether or not they “created a monster” in 2010, Lodwick said he didn’t mind if they repeated what they did in Vancouver during the next week in Sochi.
“That's not a bad thing,” Lodwick said. “We'll try to unleash it again. The Olympic Games is a whole new animal, a different breed.”