Nordic combined skier Steamboat Fletcher will compete in his fourth and final Olympics
Taylor Fletcher is an old man. At least, his teammates like to say so.
The 31-year-old veteran of the men’s national Nordic combined team is six years older than the team’s next oldest member and 12 years older than the team’s youngest member. While that deserves a lot of respect, Fletcher also gets his fair share of jokes and slaps.
“I don’t think he likes it so much that we call him that,” said teammate Jasper Good, also from Steamboat Springs. “But he is sometimes called the old man too. It’s a well-meaning joke.
The nickname may poke fun at Fletcher’s age, but it also makes his longevity in the sport impossible to ignore. Fletcher has been on the national team for 13 years and is competing at his fourth Olympics in Beijing. Although Fletcher is older than his teammates, he is also faster and takes pride in passing them on the cross-country course.
“Deep down, I still feel young, but when you look at age, yes, I’m one of the older athletes,” Fletcher said. “On good days when I beat up a lot of young kids, it’s fun to push them around and say, ‘You just got beat up by an old man. “”
When Fletcher went to his first Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver, he was the youngest member of the team at 19. He was the fifth man on the historic list of Billy Demong, Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota to take silver in the team event.
Spillane won a pair of silvers in the large hill and par, while Demong won the large hill event. Fletcher finished 46th on normal hill.
“It’s hard not to think about the success of our team and where our team could be,” Fletcher said. “It was definitely one of the highlights of my career, although personally I skied terribly.”
At the time, Fletcher was a child compared to his teammates, all of whom had competed in at least one Olympics before. He was six years younger than Camerota and 14 years younger than Lodwick, who was competing in his fifth Olympics.
Lodwick is also no stranger to longevity in the sport, and he is one of three people to have competed in the Nordic combined at six Olympic Games.
Lodwick said the key to staying that long in a demanding sport is motivation. For Lodwick, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, along with the fact that so many Olympians come from Steamboat, instilled in him a determination that carried him through more than two decades of professional competition.
“The overwhelming factor of dreaming big and believing in yourself and in the system, but also doing what you love,” Lodwick said. “If you’re not doing what you love to do, there’s no point.”
Putting on the bib for his first-ever Olympic event was a moment Fletcher will never forget, and he said he still had the same feeling every time he put on a bib. He has made 161 World Cup starts, including six appearances at the World Ski Championships.
Skiing alongside his brother, Bryan Fletcher, for years was the highlight of his career, led by the brothers who experienced the world’s biggest sporting scene together in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
“Going into the Opening Ceremonies with my brother for the first time was pretty special,” Taylor said.
The duo also competed together in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Bryan led the team and finished 18th on normal hill, while Taylor finished 39th. Taylor’s best result at the Olympic level was 35th on the large hill in 2014.
Fletcher has consistently finished in the top 30 for the past two years, which he says is happening because he found joy in the sport again.
He considered retiring in 2019, almost calling it quits after Bryan did after the 2018 Olympics.
In September of that year, their father, Tim Fletcher, died of ALS. In August 2019, their stepfather, Fred Fuller, had a serious biking accident that could have left him paralyzed. Adding to the personal devastation of his late twenties, Taylor and his longtime girlfriend broke up.
He no longer knew what he was doing. He wasn’t happy with his results and he wasn’t having fun.
Taylor pushed through the 2018-19 season in his father’s dedication, and he decided that the 2019-20 season should be for him. Then he started to find joy in the sport again.
Bryan admires that Fletcher has not only stayed true to the sport for so long, but has improved year after year.
“He’s obviously been in the sport for a number of years,” Bryan said. “Certainly he keeps trying to evolve his performance and improve it over time, which is never easy to do. I give him a lot of credit for working hard all these years and trying to be a better version of himself as an athlete.
Now Taylor is riding a wave of confidence and confidence in himself. This has led him to some of the best results of his career so far. However, if that success continues in Beijing, he won’t be able to share it with his family for the first time in his career as no foreign spectators are allowed at the Games this year due to the pandemic.
“I know my mom would definitely be there if it weren’t for the ban on spectators,” Taylor said. “It’s really hard to think that my father won’t be here. It’s hard. It’s really hard to think that, but he’s on top, and I know he’ll help me in any way he can and give me the best thoughts for sure.
It won’t be the end of Fletcher’s career, but it will more than likely be his last Olympic Games. He’s not one to announce his retirement out of hand, but doesn’t see himself competing in four years, although he could stay for another year or two.
“When it’s time to hang up the shoes, it’s definitely going to be very difficult,” Fletcher said. “But at the same time, I’m going to be able to walk away and say I gave it my all.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.