Bryan Fletcher punches ticket to PyeongChang

USA Nordic athlete Bryan Fletcher skied from behind to become the first person named to the 2018 US Olympic Nordic Combined team. Fletcher is now the first US Ski and Snowboard athlete to confirm his Olympic berth in PyeongChang.

Warm temperatures and changing winds created a challenging start to the day for the nine American athletes vying for the win. Fletcher, team veteran, was favored going into the day, but tricky conditions landed him in fifth place after the jumping.

Ben Loomis continued his hot start to the season, winning the competitive round of jumping with a jump of 92.5 meters, and giving himself a comfortable 56 second lead over his brother, Adam Loomis. Ben Berend was third following the jumping.

"Ben Loomis has been consistent and jumping well over the last couple of weeks," said USA Nordic Head Coach Martin Bayer. "He proved that he could do it when the pressure was on, which was good to see."

"Everyone did well today, but I gotta give it to Adam," Bayer added. "He was the biggest surprise for me; It was good to see him back in the fight."

And a fight it was. The Loomis brothers had done their job on the jump hill, but there was more than one Fletcher with winning on their mind. Bryan's younger brother Taylor Fletcher was also within striking distance. As one of the fastest skiers on the World Cup circuit, Taylor was still a threat starting two minutes back.

Strategy is always important in racing, but in a winner-take-all event such as the Olympic Trials, it's more important than ever. For the Fletcher brothers, a deficit after the jumping meant a last minute change of plans.

"I had a vision of myself going into the race in first or second," said Bryan. "Starting nearly a minute and a half behind Ben [Loomis] was a bit of a surprise and I really had to rethink my strategy."

Bryan worked his way up the field and, after a few laps, found himself in second. Adam Loomis skied a strong race, unrelenting and unwilling to let his older teammate ski away. 

Taylor Fletcher was strong for the first three laps, gaining time on the leaders initially, but was unable to completely close the gap. "I just didn't have it in my legs today," said Taylor.

Halfway through the fourth lap, Bryan and Adam had caught up to Ben. They were three teammates, two brothers, all chasing a single ticket. Not wanting to waste any time playing games, Bryan decided early in the last lap he had to make his move.

"Both Ben and Adam can sprint really well," said Bryan. "I decided I had to make my move as far out as I could, which was the bottom of the hill, and just try to climb my way to the win."

The move worked; one and a half kilometers from the finish, Bryan began to pull away. It was a hard fight and neither Loomis was willing to concede, giving chase all the way to the end.

"It feels awesome," said Bryan, after the race was over. "I had some nerves coming into the day. To have the win and my spot solidified is a huge relief. Now I can focus on the training and the process going into the games in order to perform my best."

This will be Bryan's second Olympic team, having represented Team USA in Sochi in 2014.

"Everyone had a good strategy in the race today, especially the top three guys," said Bayer. "Bryan is obviously skiing strong and having a good season, but it was a great day for the guys on the podium, hands down."

Following the weekend, the team will make its way back over to Europe. While one spot has been claimed, there are still three more spots waiting to be filled on the Nordic Combined team. The selection period will continue through January 22, after which team selections will be decided based on international results on the World Cup and Continental Cup circuits.

Podium:
1. Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO)
2. Adam Loomis (Eau Claire, WI)
3. Ben Loomis (Eau Claire, WI)

Alex Glueck / USA Nordic