This winter is definitely (maybe) Steamboat skier Bryan Fletcher’s last hurrah
PARK CITY, Utah — He’s not quite ready to stone-cold confirm it, but when Steamboat Springs skier Bryan Fletcher talks about his future in Nordic combined, his language is getting more and more precise.
Last winter, the question about retirement after the 2017-18 season and the 2018 Winter Olympics drew “maybe.” Olympic years are always bracketed by World Championship years, which often serve as a carrot to lure capable athletes into one more year of competition.
Now, however, Fletcher’s language is closing in on a decision.
“I think,” he said, speaking last week at the Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, “I’ll be done after this year.”
If so, that leaves Fletcher one final opportunity to build on his legacy as a skier and to add to his trophy case.
That journey started Sunday with the Nordic Combined National Championships in Lake Placid, New York, which he won.
Before Sunday, Fletcher was a two-time champion in that event and has five podium finishes there. This year, he’ll battle his younger brother Taylor Fletcher, the reigning national champ, as well as a field of U.S. team members. Five of those members are Steamboat Springs skiers, both Fletchers as well as Ben Berend, Jasper Good and Grant Andrews.
Bryan Fletcher’s already logged a standout career among American Nordic combined athletes.
The most notable highlight came in winning the King’s Cup in Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway, in 2012, his only World Cup win.
That’s one of 34 top-10 finishes he’s logged in international competition, 25 of them on the World Cup circuit.
He helped the United States earn a bronze medal for the four-man relay team at the 2013 World Nordic Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, becoming one of five American Nordic combined skiers with a World Championship medal.
He’s ranked as high as 15th in the World Cup at the end of a season, in 2015. He’s finished in the top 25 four other times.
“I’ve always been humbled I’ve had it that far,” said Fletcher, who turned 31 years old in June. “It wasn’t always something I necessarily knew was possible.”
It didn’t always seem possible for Fletcher. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3, given less than a one-in-five chance of living. Doctors advised against ski jumping, but his mother figured, why not?
Twenty-seven years later, he’s looking ahead at his second Olympics.
Competitively speaking, the first wasn’t his finest moment. He came into those 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, with back-to-back-to-back top-six finishes in the World Cup, but at the Olympics he was 22nd and 26th in the individual events, and part of a sixth-place relay team.
He’s proven to have a big-game mentality in other headline events, however. He was fifth in a World Championships race in 2015, skiing with the lead pack through much of the course. He entered the final stretch of a World Championships race last winter with a shot to medal, as well, before a late fall left him to finish 14th.
“I’m tired of competing,” he said. “I’ve been doing it a long time and I’m ready for a new experience, but it’s also motivating to have a light at the end of the tunnel and really put all your eggs in your basket for this year and be the best 24/7 athlete you can be, and enjoying it in the process.
“I’m still trying to be at the top, I know accomplishing what I have, if I walk away tomorrow, I can be happy doing so.”
But will he walk away tomorrow? He’s not quite ready to confirm that without a caveat.
He hopes to spend two or three years in school to become a physician’s assistant, but first has about a year’s worth of work remaining at Utah State.
“So far it’s been all online,” he said. “Next year, I can start attending more classes in person, provided I’m not skiing.”
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Strange is a word that will likely define the winter high school sports season. But, after numerous delays and endless doubts, that season is finally here. It will include fewer games, more masks and a lot of empty seats, but adapting to that strangeness is better than the alternative.