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Overcoming Fear & Exhaustion In This Obscure Winter Sport

Posted by Dominic Costanzo on

Part 2 of our November Campaign series featuring winter olympian's Bryan and Taylor Fletcher.

 

Skiing run’s deep in Norwegian culture. It’s the birthplace of that sport after all. And while it has permeated throughout the globe, one variation of the sport undeservedly garners less attention, at least here in western society that is.

Nordic combined is one of the most unique and demanding sporting disciples around. First on display back in 1892 at the Holmenkollen Ski Festival, it has since been featured in every Olympic Games since the first Winter Games were held in 1924. As the name suggests, the sport “combines” two vastly different disciplines into one; ski jumping and cross country skiing.

To be quite honest, there are a multitude of race formats, variations, rules and techniques that we could get into. But in a nutshell, to understand how the sport works, the main thing you need to know is that how an athlete finishes in the intial ski jumping event dictates their starting position in the final 10km cross country race; a format also known as an individual Gundersen event. 

Imagine standing atop a 197’ tower, preparing to launch off of a ramp at speeds close to 60mph, proceeding to then glide over the length of a football field. Intimidating is an understatement. For nordic combined athletes however, this is their reality.

“I am comfortable with jumping but I am also always nervous,” say’s Taylor Fletcher, a nordic combined athlete and winter olympian for the United States.

“When I get to the top of the jump, excitement builds. I try to think about the process of my jump and not so much the results. There is no other feeling that compares to the feeling of flying through the air.” - Taylor Fletcher

Athletes are judged on both style as well as distance, with the winner having the best combined distance and style score. The starting order for the cross country race is then predicated upon the results of the jumping. Time penalities are assessed to each athlete that finished behind the winner that they’ll have to make up in the race. This has major implications on the race strategy for each athlete as some will have to make up more time, some less. From there it is just a race to the finish, as whoever crosses the line first wins. 

The physical demands necessary for both jumping and racing couldn’t be more diametrically opposed however, and in many cases, athletes have a propensity to be much better in one area over another. To be successful in the jumps takes explosive power to execute well, while success in the cross country race requires extreme levels of endurance and stamina.

“Balancing both ski jumping and cross country skiing is extremely demanding and as a result you get some of the most talented athletes vying for a podium finish each competition.” - Bryan Fletcher.

While ski jumping may present a greater mental hurdle and potential risk for injury, its the cross country race that is most grueling for athletes. “Nordic ski athletes have been famous for the total collapses at the finish line.” say’s Taylor.

“Cross country skiing uses every muscle in the body, translating to a deep feeling of fatigue when you push yourself to the limit.  Everything in your body wants to give up at the end of the race.” add’s Bryan.

Whereas running is mainly a lower body activity, cross country skiers have to use both their arms and legs to propel themselves. And they hardly get any help from gravity, as most races occur over flat land with intermittent inclines. Rarely is there an opportunity to coast. Thinking about it is utterly exhausting. 

Although Team USA had historic success at the somewhat recent 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, the lack of popularity in the United States puts athletes at a tremendous disadvantage when competing against the rest of the world, specifically the European countries where skiing originated. 

“Around 22 million viewers tune in to watch Nordic combined every weekend on Eurosport. It’s a very large market over there. Because of this popularity, European teams even receive government support to help offset their expenses. Being based in the USA, many major corporations shy away from funding our team as we don’t generate the same amount of exposure.” -Taylor Fletcher.

Exposure and sponsors aren’t the only hurdle that presents themselves either for American athletes. “Additionally, the popularity in Europe means that is where all of our competitions are held.  So we have to travel further and spend more time away from home then other teams, further increasing our expenses.” say’s Bryan.

For athletes like Bryan and Taylor Fletcher though, it’s the love of the sport that keeps them coming back. As physically demanding as nordic combined can be, it’s also what attracts athletes like them to it, because there’s something about pushing yourself to the limit both physically and mentally that’s addicting. And for anyone who shares a love of sport, the competitive nature and beauty of Nordic combined will certainly turn them into fans. 

Through the month of November, 10% of your purchase of any product in our shop will go towards sponsoring Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. For sports like Nordic combined, funding doesn't always come easy, and elite athletes often times have to incur large personal costs to compete at a high level. The Frynge is proud to provide a platform that allows readers and customers like yourself, to have a direct impact in supporting athletes like Bryan and Taylor. So be sure to check back each week for new stories, gear and apparel!

 

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