Kuusamo, Finland – U.S. Olympian Bryan Fletcher skied to a career best 18th Saturday in the season’s second FIS Nordic Combined World Cup competition in Kuusamo on Saturday. Austrian veteran Felix Gottwald won an epic battle in the last kilometer over Norway’s Mikko Kokslien, breaking up a potential sweep by defending World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Jason Lamy-Chappuis of France, who was third.nThe race was run in sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures presenting significant challenges, especially in cross country skiing.
“It was brutally cold here today,” said U.S. Ski Team Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett. “Those guys came into the wax cabin almost in tears. The snow was squeaky. It was good classic conditions but not for skating.”
Fletcher put himself into a good position with a 127 meter jump, starting in 22nd, one minute, 21 seconds back, in cross country. Lamy-Chappuis soared 140 meters on his jump to take a huge 15 second lead into the cross country, as three Frenchmen were in the top five after the jump.
The Steamboat Springs, Colo. native wasted no time in the cross country. Starting a second behind Kokslien, he was able to get a quick start in moving up through the field, picking off two places within the first kilometer and holding around 20th through most of the race. He had enough in reserve at the end to gain two more spots to 18th in the final kilometers.
Fletcher went out knowing that, with the exception of Gottwald, the race was entirely ahead of him. “He didn’t have to worry about keeping his position with others behind him, just focusing on what was ahead,” said Jarrett.
Lamy-Chappuis, meanwhile, went out strong but had multiple challenges through the race from a variety of skiers. Finland’s Janne Ryaenen challenged first followed by Austria’s Mario Stecher. Kokslien, starting 1:19 back, shot up like bullet and took the lead over Germany’s Tino Edelman by the 7.5k mark as Lamy-Cappuis dropped well off the pace before charging back to third.
Gottwald, meanwhile, had worked his way up to battle the Norwegian Kokslien to the finish for the win.
“I hope it is a breakthrough for him,” said Jarrett. “It’s a step in the build to 2014 where we need to have more different guys doing this more often. It starts with top 30s, then top 20s.
“But we need to keep it in perspective. It is his best result but we have higher expectations.”
“I had good training jumps and knew that I had the ability to jump well in the competition,” said Fletcher. “Jumping into 22nd gave me the opportunity. In the cross country race, my strategy was simply to ski my own race. I was able to move up a few places throughout the race and then in the finish I saw an opportunity to pass a few guys so I took advantage of it.
“This is a good confidence boost for me. I had hoped to be able to ski into the top 20 and I’ve been able to do that. I want to go into Lillehammer next weekend and continue my momentum.”
For the second straight day, Olympic champion Billy Demong (Vermontville, N.Y.) struggled in the jump, soaring 111 meters but finding himself 3:19 back in 38th to start cross country. He wound up 36th with Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) 39th.
Obviously I’m hoping for better results,” said Demong. “Things were good in Lillehammer (training last week). I had some good – not great – training jumps here. But it’s an unusual hill. I was watching the same thing with the special jumpers. You make the smallest mistake on this hill and it’s all over. Huge knoll, huge hill – you never get very far off the ground.”
“Collectively we’re not skiing on par,” said Jarrett. “We come into a long block of racing now. If the plan goes as we’re hoping they’ll ski stronger in Lillehammer next weekend and be in good shape for Ramsau the following weekend.”
Jarrett felt that Demong’s slow start was a combination of needing more jumps and dialing in new equipment. “Billy’s not jumping the way he has been jumping,” he said. “It could be operator error or equipment that he’s still sorting out. Next week in Lillehammer he’ll make some changes in his jumping skis. Technically he wasn’t too far off, but the way he jumps and way he positions in the air the skis there are many small variables that can make a big difference. With more and more jumps leading into Oslo [World Championships], he’ll have plenty of time to dial things in. That’s the focus for Bill this season.”
The World Cup now heads to the Olympic village of Lillehammer, Norway for a pair of events next weekend. The Continental Cup, meanwhile, heads to the USA for stops next weekend in Steamboat Springs and Dec. 11-12 in Park City and Soldier Hollow in Utah.
FIS NORDIC COMBINED WORLD CUP
1. Felix Gottwald, Austria (26/1) 28:17.5
2. Mikko Kokslien, Norway (21/4) +7.5
3. Jason Lamy-Chappuis, France (1/25) +9.5
4. Mario Stecher, Austria (9/12) +11.5
5. Eric Frenzel, Germany (8/13) +11.7