PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — It's not that Bryan Fletcher doesn't love racing in the Olympics, as the Steamboat Springs Nordic combined athlete did for the fifth time and in his second Olympics on Tuesday night at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
It's that he doesn't have four more years to wait to do it again and so with a strong — but just strong — performance he raced to the finish of the final individual Olympic event of his career.
Fletcher was 17th to lead the U.S. team Tuesday in the men's large hill Nordic combined event at the Alpensia Cross-County Centre at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
"This whole experience has been nonstop reflecting on the fact that this is my last Olympics and last individual event. It's bittersweet," he said. "I'm happy with today's performance and if I could get one more crack at it I could, but unfortunately four years is a lot of time and I've got other things I need to focus on."
The race was dominated for the Germans, who swept the podium and in doing so accounted for both individual gold medals at the 2018 Olympics. Johannes Rydzek won this one. Fabian Riessle was second and Eric Frenzel, the normal hill gold medalist, third.
Japan's Akito Watabe, silver medalist on the normal hill, leaped into first place in the jumping round but couldn't hold off a charging train of Germans in the cross-country ski race.
Ben Berend, also from Steamboat Springs and getting his first Olympic start, came up with a big-time ski jump to open the competition that had him pumping his fists almost before he was finished with his actual landing. He couldn't follow that up in the cross-country ski race, but was the second-best American, placing 39th.
"That's just the way it goes, highs and lows," said Berend, who got the start Tuesday in the place of Taylor Fletcher, who struggled from the jump hill in training. "It's hard not to feel a little frustrated. I wanted to race a little faster than that."
Ben Loomis, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was in right after Berend, placing 40th and Steamboat's Jasper Good was 43rd.
Berend had the 44th-best ski time and his fellow young teammates were similar, Loomis at 35th and Good at 39th.
"I definitely didn't come into the Olympics on the best jumping form and I've been able to take some steps in the right direction," Good said. "It's hugely important for me personally to come into these Games and get the experience so I understand how the whole process works so I don't show up when I want to put myself in the hunt and I'm massively overwhelmed by everything."
Fletcher had the 10th-fastest ski time, and it nearly carried him to a mark he's been aiming for at this Olympics: a top-10 finish.
After jumping to 18th place in the normal hill competition last week he felt he had a strong chance to ski up into the top 10, but his cited a miss on the wax of his skis as a reason he was unable to make up any serious ground on the cross-country course.
The skis were dialed in Tuesday, he said, and indeed he made up some places, from a 23rd-place jump to 17th. But, he briefly had more. He worked his way up through the pack in the first part of the race and sat in 10th place as he led a big pack of racers into the fourth and final lap of the 10-kilometer race.
He unwound a bit there, giving up those spots to match his 17th-place finish in the normal hill event.
"They put in a pretty hard attack on the backside of the course and I wasn't quite able to hang with it," he said. "I think I'm happy. I put together a solid race today, so that was a relief. That was my big stress coming into today, but definitely led a little too much throughout the race and suffered at the end. "
Next up for Nordic combined at the 2018 Olympics is the team event, set for Thursday. It's an event where the Americans won silver in 2010 and where they placed sixth in 2014, but one where they're not expected to place high this time.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.