Bryan Fletcher Takes Olympic Spot
Veteran Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) came from nearly a minute-and-a-half back after the jump to take victory in the Olympic Trials at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City Saturday, earning a spot on the 2018 Olympic Team. Fletcher caught jump leader Ben Loomis (Eau Claire, Wis.) on the fourth of five laps, outdistancing Adam Loomis (Eau Claire, Wis.) by 12.8 seconds with Ben taking fourth.
A huge crowd over 3,000 packed the Olympic venue for the mid-morning jump and early-afternoon cross country. The event will be integrated into the NBC show live from the Olympic Trials ski jumping Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Ben Loomis had taken a huge lead with a towering jump Saturday morning, starting the cross country 56 seconds ahead of his brother Adam. Bryan Fletcher ended up with the fastest time in cross country, 38 seconds faster than brother Taylor.
It will be the second Olympics for Bryan Fletcher, a childhood cancer survivor. His brother Taylor, who is seeking to make his third Olympic team, ended up fourth. The full list of Olympic team nominations will be announced the week of Jan. 22. Others can qualify for the team based on international results.
Tricky wind for the morning jump caused challenges for some and opportunities for others. Jumping sixth, Adam Loomis put down an impressive 89.5 meter effort to score 109.1 points. Next up was Taylor Fletcher, one of the pre-event favorites, who was only able to push it out to 80.5 meters. Ben Loomis jumped next with a towering 92.5 meter effort - longest ride of the day - to move into the lead. Only Bryan Fletcher remained with the eventual competition winner dropping into fifth at 86.5 meters.
The grueling cross country course was set at the base of the jumps, with a pair of lollipop-shaped loops partially up each of the two jumps, followed by a terrifying series of downhill switchbacks. The 2k course then climbed back up into the stadium with athletes making five laps.
Ben Loomis went out all alone with brother Adam 56 seconds behind, followed by Ben Berend (Steamboat Springs, Colo.), Jasper Good (Steamboat Springs) and Bryan Fletcher.
On the first lap, Bryan Fletcher began quickly closing the gap, catching Berend and Good.
“My strategy was to attack early,” said Bryan Fletcher. “I knew if I could catch those guys I had a chance to move up.”
Ben Loomis held his own early in the race. Bryan Fletcher and Adam Loomis hooked up on lap three, getting leader Ben Loomis into their sights. The trio came together late in the race, skiing together for a lap.
While Bryan Fletcher had caught the Loomis brothers, he also knew the race wasn't over. "I would never underestimate those guys," he said. "The level of the team has risen dramatically this year - both on the jumps and cross country. I knew any of those guys were a threat."
On the final lap, Bryan Fletcher made a move to create a small gap but still wasn't sure where he stood with the Loomis brothers. "When we were skiing together I felt they had fresher legs than I did. I had to play my card in attacking early. Once I had the gap, it was everything I could do to hold it. If it was another 500 meters they might have taken me."
Brother Taylor was disappointed but knew that bridging nearly a two minute gap in a 25 minute race would be tough. "I just didn't have the fire in my legs today," he said after the race.
The win iced an Olympic Team spot for Bryan Fletcher just two weeks after he put himself into strong selection position with a top-10 finish in a World Cup in Ramsau, Austria. Next weekend’s scheduled World Cup in Estonia has been canceled, leaving only three individual World Cups remaining before the end of Olympic selection.
All of the athletes were a bit in awe of the huge crowds gathered at the Utah Olympic Park. "Part of the reason I was so nervous is that there were so many people out there," said Bryan Fletcher. "In the U.S. this was a real treat for us - so many people out there supporting my teammates and I. We wanted to thank them by putting on a good show. It’s really special to compete on home snow with friends and families cheering us on. It definitely helped me."
Bryan Fletcher indicated he and coaches would discuss his plans now leading up to PyeongChang, while other athletes will be heading for Val di Fiemme, Italy and Chaux-Neuve, France in hope of picking up additional team quota spots for PyeongChang.