PARK CITY, Utah (TEAMUSA.org) PARK CITY, Utah – Bryan Fletcher hit the brother lode Saturday.
Fletcher was the only athlete among two sets of contending brothers to qualify for Team USA in Nordic combined at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Nordic Combined & Ski Jumping.
Fletcher made his second straight Olympic team by overtaking four competitors and holding off his younger brother Taylor on the grueling 10K cross-country course at Utah Olympic Park with a time of 25 minutes, 6.8 seconds.
“We talked before and both of us were like, “If it’s not me, it’s you,” Bryan Fletcher said. “(Let’s have) one of us in the family win, and I’m sure the Loomis brothers kind of had the same conversation.”
Adam Loomis was second, 12.8 seconds back, while Ben Loomis, the leader after the ski jumping portion was third, crossing the finish line 29.6 seconds behind the winner. Taylor Fletcher, a 2010 and 2014 Olympian, finished fourth. Although his cross-country time of 25 minutes, 44.5 seconds was the second fastest, the final margin was 1:07.7.
Bryan Fletcher, 31, a childhood cancer survivor, was in fifth place among the nine athletes after the ski jumping portion on the HS100 hill.
He jumped only 86.5 meters, which combined with the judges’ scores for form and wind compensation to give him 102.3 points and put him 1 minute and 24 seconds behind Ben Loomis.
Loomis, 19, jumped 92.5 meters to score 123.2 points.
As the leader in the ski jump, Loomis started 56 seconds ahead of his older brother Adam, 25, who jumped 89.5 meters. Taylor Fletcher, 27, who jumped 80.5 meters, was sixth and started 1:54 behind on the five-lap course at the base of the ski jumps.
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Bryan Fletcher caught two skiers on the first of the 2-kilometer laps, then pulled ahead of Adam Loomis on the second lap with only 26 second separating him from Ben Loomis.
Fletcher, wearing a distinctive red cap, closed the gap to 10 seconds after three laps, overtook Ben Loomis near the end of the fourth lap and then held on for victory and the $10,000 first prize.
“I was really kind of disappointed in my performance on the jump hill,” said Fletcher, who noted he was more nervous going into the competition Saturday than he was four years ago because he was the favorite. “I knew that I needed to have a good jump and I didn’t have it, but I was also relieved that it wasn’t worse.”
He also had been sick last week and wasn’t sure if he had a winning performance in him. Because there were only nine competitors, there was no pack skiing until the end, when he caught the Loomis brothers.
“I just had to ski smart and leave enough in the tank in the end that I knew I could finish strong,” he said.
He also couldn’t count out Taylor, who is considered one of the fastest cross country skiers worldwide in Nordic combined.
“I never underestimate him,” Bryan said. “He’s an animal on the cross-country course. The first thing I thought of when I caught that group was ‘OK, where’s Taylor? Can I take a rest or do I need to go to the front (and push)?'”
He did a little of both. Knowing that the Loomis brothers were both strong sprinters, Fletcher didn’t want the race to come down to a kick.
“It was going to be a really hard finish no matter what,” he said. “I gave it everything I had and if the finish line was 10 feet further, I don’t know if I would have made it.”
After exulting at the line, he collapsed for more than half a minute. “That was such a relief,” he said, “and I think you can tell by the scream at the end I was just relieved to have that victory and this competition in the books.”
He was greeted by his wife Nikki and daughter Ellery, who was born in August 2016. Bryan said that unlike some of his European rivals, who sleep far away from their new babies so they don’t lose any rest, he is an active father.
“There are days when I have to take Ellery out in training sessions in a trailer behind me,” he said. “Nikki has just been just tremendous. To be able to allow me to pursue my dream while staying home and holding down the fort is pretty amazing.”
Taylor Fletcher said that he was “stoked” to see his brother win. He had too much ground to make up to get the win for himself.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge for sure,” Taylor Fletcher said. “I’ve gotten on the podium from that far in the world cup, but this was a different situation. I skied a solo race for the most part and never really had contact with the group, so I was bummed.”
Up to three others could make the team depending on world cup results through Jan. 22. If Team USA has four athletes, it will qualify for the team event in PyeongChang.
Bryan Fletcher was seventh in a world cup in Ramsau, Austria, his best individual finish in almost two years, and his win at the trials solidified his position as the top Team USA Nordic combined athlete. He also has a world cup win in the prestigious King's Cup at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway, in 2012, and scored four top-15 world cup finishes last season.
He said ski jumping and cross country skiing are “pretty much polar opposite sports, that’s what makes this sport so challenging. Every time you train one you take away from the other.
“So to master both of them on the same day is extremely difficult.”
Adam Loomis, a two-time world championship team member who scored a top-30 Grand Prix finish in August, had mixed emotions after the winner-take-all competition.
“It is hard because I want to be super happy with this performance, but on the other hand, today if you’re not first you’re last,” he said, then backtracked a bit. “That’s not true, because Bryan deserved the win and for us, we’re still happy to be up there on the podium with him. We’ve got a couple of chances ahead.”
Ben Loomis is a six-time junior national champion and won the silver medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016.
“I knew if I had a good race, I could probably stay away, but if not they would probably catch me,” he said.