Part 1 of our November campaign series featuring winter olympian's Bryan and Taylor Fletcher.
Just a few short years ago, two brothers entered into the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, rolling deep alongside 228 of their fellow Team USA teammates. For the thousands of spectators on hand for the opening ceremony, and the millions more watching from around the world, the next two hours and 40 minutes were an absolute spectacle to behold. But for Nordic combined athletes Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, the opening ceremony was much more than that, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
Four years is all that separates the Fletcher brother’s in age. Growing up in an active family in the small town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, their relationship was a lot like many others. Taylor being the younger of the two, did what most younger brothers tend to do; follow the lead on everything your older brother does. And if you’ve ever had a brother, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
“I felt that I didn’t really have a choice in pursuing Nordic combined as my brother decided it for me.” says Taylor. “I tried to be a hockey player as all my friends were doing that, but I had trouble skating and couldn’t really stop. As I got old enough for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Bryan was already jumping and that looked like the most fun a child could have.” - Taylor Fletcher
For those of you who don’t know, Nordic combined is a demanding winter sport discipline where athletes compete in both ski jumping and cross country racing. Known as the “decathlon of skiing”, its’ unique pairing requires athletes be both strong and explosive for jumping, while also requiring the endurance and speed necessary to be successful in the racing half of the event.
In the United States, there are only three major venues that host Nordic combined events: Park City, Utah; Lake Placid, New York; and Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
There’s a saying in Steamboat Springs that goes something likes this, “In most towns, kids dream about throwing a touchdown or hitting a home run to win the game, but in Steamboat Springs, they dream about winning olympic medals.” Outside of Steamboat, at least in the United States that is, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot of folks familiar with the sport of Nordic Combined. It’s as if every sport you’d consider “niche” is somewhat mainstream there. Known as “Ski Town USA”, Steamboat has produced more winter olympians than any other town in North America. That stat is impressive in its own right, but when you take into account that the town has an average population of just under 13,000, it goes from impressive to "wait, you're joking right?"
But beyond geography, to further understand their success in the sport, as well as the tight bond they share as brothers, we have to go back a little ways. In May of 1990, just before his 4th birthday, Bryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Taylor was born just a short 11 days after that diagnosis. The years that ensued were undoubtably hard on the whole family, with Bryan having to undergo continuous treatment. During this time however, his family looked for an outlet, something Bryan could focus on that would lift his spirits. His first introduction to the sport of Nordic combined, or at least an element of it, came shortly after at a “learn to jump” event one afternoon. Recognizing his interest in the sport, his parents figured this could be the exact thing he needed. Regarding that first experience, Bryan recounts “I was instantly hooked after the first jump. About a year later I started Nordic combined.” He reflects back on those early years and credits his young age to being able to manage everything.
“I was young enough that I didn’t know enough about cancer to realize how serious it was. I had a naïve attitude that everything was going to be fine. I never once thought I was going to die, or that I wouldn’t be a normal kid one day. Being a normal kid was all I wanted, and I viewed cancer as a challenge that I had to go through to become a normal kid.” - Bryan Fletcher
While it’s difficult for Taylor to recall those early days of seeing his brother go through treatment, he does remember the profound feeling of what it was like to see Bryan out there practicing. “I saw him everyday having more fun than kids who had way more energy, and realized that if he loved the sport, I could love it as well.”
At age 11, after years of fighting cancer and ultimately beating it, Bryan was finally able to fully devote his energy into pursuing the sport alongside his brother. Competing in the same sport as brothers would prove to be beneficial over the years, as they’d develop a rivalry that would help fuel their success. Speaking on this, Taylor say's, “For our entire life except for a few years where Bryan was in Park City and I was in Steamboat, we would train together almost every single session. We still do a majority of our training together and it works out very well. Jumping has always been Bryan’s strong suit and I was always the faster skier. So that sibling rivalry has made our training better which in turn has made us better competitors.” Bryan adds, “There is a ton of sibling rivalry still to this day. Taylor is the most competitive person I know.”
In 2010, with the Vancouver Olympics on the horizon, both of them were vying for the final spot on the team. As teammates and competitors, these types of situations are just part of the territory, someone is always unfortunately going to end up on the outside looking in. But as brothers, it puts you in a tough spot knowing that one of you is going to have to wait another 4 year’s to get another shot at qualifying for The Olympics. That year both of them had been competing well, and it was certainly a breakout season for Taylor as one of the younger guys on the team. However, on the week the teams were to be named, Bryan suffered an injury that would ultimately factor into costing him a chance at The Games.
“I was disappointed that I was not on the team. Up until that year I was the front runner for that 5th spot. I wanted it badly, but it just wasn’t in the cards. However, when Taylor stepped up that year it was awesome to see. So overall it was a very bittersweet moment. As he was achieving his best, I was defeated and having to recover from a high ankle sprain.” - Bryan Fletcher
As for Taylor's reaction to the selection, “I was watching my dreams unfold and he was watching his get crushed by his younger brother. That actually crushed me as well, but nonetheless, Bryan was there for me like he was my whole childhood. He congratulated and supported me through the whole experience."
2010 was certainly a defining year in both of their careers. Taylor had punched his ticket to Vancouver, qualifying for his first ever Olympic Games while Bryan on the other hand, well, let's just say the disappointment of not making the olympics only fueled him in the years that would follow. "The next winter, he absolutely kicked my ass," say's Taylor.
Flash forward four years from then and you’re reminded of the scene depicted earlier as Bryan and Taylor would both go on to qualify for The Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. For Bryan, the moment was a long time coming. “Making the team in Sochi was a relief for me. I could finally be officially considered an Olympian! The experience of the games was amazing. I am so happy that I could go through that knowing that I earned it. However, performance wise, I think Sochi left both Taylor and I disappointed and hungry for more.“
Today, the Fletcher brothers are gearing up for yet another World Cup Season in ultimate preparation for the 2018 Games being held in Pyeongchang, South, Korea. This time around though, there's unfinished business. It isn’t just about qualifying, it’s about coming home with medals around their necks!
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!