Questions linger for Steamboat Nordic combined athletes
With the World Cup qualifying period complete, it would make sense for things to be coming into focus in terms of who will be in and who will be out for the United States in Nordic combined at the looming 2018 Winter Olympics.
Not quite. In fact, midway through the qualifying period’s final weekend, things may have grown foggier.
Four American athletes competed Saturday in France at the final individual World Cup of the season scheduled before the U.S. will announce the four Olympic athletes. Their performance — along with that of another athlete on the Continental Cup — didn’t do anything to clear up the big question.
The only confirmed member of the U.S. contingent is Steamboat Springs veteran Olympian Bryan Fletcher, who earned a trip to his second Olympics with a win in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last month in Park City, Utah. He had the weekend off.
Any top-30 finish on the World Cup by any other athlete would have effectively locked in a spot next to Fletcher, but none of the other six athletes who’ve had starts on that circuit have achieved that mark.
Saturday, Wisconsin 19-year old Ben Loomis finished 37th, about 23 seconds off that 30th-place finish but still the best World Cup finish of his career. Park City, Utah’s Stephen Schumann was 45th and Steamboat Springs skier Ben Berend 46th.
Steamboat Springs skier Jasper Good missed qualifying for the event after placing 51st in the provisional jumping round when only the top-50 skiers advanced.
Somewhere north of that foursome, competing in Rena, Norway, Steamboat Springs skier Taylor Fletcher had perhaps his best result of the season, placing fourth on the Continental Cup.
Adam Loomis, from Wisconsin but with ties to Steamboat, was 33rd, Steamboat skier Grant Andrews 41st and Park City’s Jared Schumate 43rd.
Another World Cup event awaits Sunday, though it’s a team relay and unlikely to factor into any considerations for making the Olympic team. Those skiers on the Continental Cup do have one last chance to bulk up their resume with a final individual event in Norway.
Down to the last race
What’s it all mean for Olympic qualifying? It’s not clear.
Coach Martin Bayer said in the summer choosing the team would be a matter of facts and figures, but different skiers have had different opportunities to score points on different circuits.
Fletcher, for instance, has struggled mightily at the World Cup and been unable to make that top-30 mark and score points, often because his jumping has kept him out of the competitions entirely. But, he’s raced just once at the Continental Cup level, and in that race, Saturday’s, recorded the best U.S. result on that tour this year, scoring 50 points. (One World Cup point is worth an infinite number of Continental Cup points in terms of world ranking.)
Fletcher also has the best World Cup result of the year apart from Bryan Fletcher’s, a 34th-place finish last month.
Is that evidence enough to earn him a trip to his third Olympics, or will the team end up filled with young up-and-coming skiers for whom the experience could be a building block to future Olympic success? Among that group, Ben Loomis has likely locked up a spot with consistent Continental Cup results. Good is next, also having logged a string of strong results on that circuit, and Berend is close behind him on the strength of several big performances last weekend.
Another top result in Sunday’s Continental Cup race could propel Taylor Fletcher past both Good and Berend in terms of Continental Cup points and mix things up even more.
The team will be announced early this coming week.
The graduates of Vail Mountain School’s class of 2019 will be off to far-flung destinations next fall, set to enter college in one of 16 different states or explore the world on a gap year. One grad is even attending college in Canada.