Steamboat Nordic combined Olympian finds success and confidence again
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s been years since Taylor Fletcher has felt good about a competition result.
The three-time Olympian has been on the Nordic combined national team for a decade and might be in the best mental state of his whole career. Fletcher, born and raised in Steamboat Springs, came away with 26th- and 24th-place finishes at a World Cup competition in Ramsau, Austria, on Dec. 19 and 20.
“I think it’s been a couple years since I had a jump that I was happy about and was able to put in a good race to follow that,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been through quite a bit over the last four years, five years, that has pulled me away from the sport a little bit. I, to be honest, probably wasn’t fully engaged even though I thought I was. Having those results — yes, they’re not exactly what I came here to do, but you gotta start somewhere, and those were definitely a good stepping stone into these next competitions.”
Fletcher didn’t put up the best jump in the provisional round but, on day one, had the 41st-best jump and used a fast race to ski into 26th. He took that confidence and carried it into the next day where he posted the 33rd-best jump. He shaved 20 seconds off his previous day’s race time, passing people and finishing in 24th.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” he said. “I think I owe it to myself to trust what I’m doing and trust what the team is doing. It’s going to pay off.”
Fletcher didn’t always have that trust.
Considering calling it quits
The 30-year-old almost retired in 2019. He was dissatisfied and frustrated, but mostly he was sad. Fletcher was already considering concluding his time as an athlete when his brother, Bryan Fletcher, retired after the 2018 Olympics, where both brothers competed. In September of that year, Fletcher’s father Tim died of ALS.
Less than a year later, his stepfather, Fred Fuller, was in a serious bike accident that could have left him paralyzed. Adding to the chaos of his late 20s, Fletcher broke up with a longtime girlfriend.
“That was a lot of crap that was placed on my lap. When you’re not having a quality season, you start to question what are you really doing,” he said. “I could be finishing school. I could be getting a job and making money and starting my new life. It was pretty clear, once I stepped away from the season, I wanted to keep skiing.”
Fletcher skied the season after his father died in memory of his dad. By the start of the 2019-20 season, Fletcher realized he wanted one more year just for him and found he was having fun again, even if his results weren’t great. He still had passion for the sport and didn’t want to leave it only to regret it later.
“I want to be able to walk away and say I gave it everything,” he said.
A new mindset
With world championships in 2021 and the Olympics a year after that, Fletcher decided he would stick with the sport for a while longer. He’s enjoying skiing more than he has in the past, and his more relaxed approach seems to be paying off.
“My job — I say in air quotes — as a professional skier, there’s not a ton of fame involved, there’s not a ton of money involved, but I get to travel around the world and ski in these beautiful places,” Fletcher said. “How is it if you don’t really have a good jump or you don’t have the best race? You’re still doing what you love to do.”
It took Fletcher years to find that mindset, though. He spent the better part of his career putting pressure on himself to hit certain marks and meet certain standards. If he failed to make his goals, he would wallow in his shortcomings and wonder what he could be doing better.
“There are times, everyone faces it, where you’re like, ’What the hell is going on? Why is this sport so hard for me right now? I can’t jump worth crap,’” Fletcher said. “That’s commonplace in professional sports. You just try to minimize that and forget about it. Burning energy on that stuff is taxing. It’s taken me a long time to realize that. Learning to forget and moving on as quickly as possible is very important. Spending as little energy as possible on the negative side is the key.”
There are just a few meters of flight time separating Fletcher’s good performances from excellent results, and he’s eyeing the world championships in late February and the 2022 Olympics.
“I’ll give it everything I have to make my fourth Olympic team,” Fletcher said. “I got a bunch of young kids that are chomping to take me down and push me out of the sport, but I’m pretty confident I can make the next team.”
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In a move unusual in today’s West, private land in the Crystal Valley opened in July to free public use by mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners. Coal Basin Ranch opened a 5-mile trail network in mid-July that is open to the public at no cost.