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Last fall, Steamboat Springs–born Olympians Bryan and Taylor Fletcher followed a strict eight-hour-per-day Nordic combined training schedule at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Park City headquarters: ski jumping, weight lifting, and roller-skiing up to 20 miles with poles in hand. This year, the 28- and 24-year-old brothers (respectively) had to squeeze in shifts at the local pizza shop. That’s because in April, the USSA cut the Nordic combined budget by 80 percent (from $600,000 in 2013), leaving the Fletchers, who returned to Colorado to train this summer, and the team to fend in large part for themselves.
With limited funds to distribute between a growing collection of Olympic events, USSA CEO Tiger Shaw says the organization had to make difficult decisions about which sports to support, and ultimately, Nordic combined—an event that pairs cross-country skiing and ski jumping—simply wasn’t excelling. “Our job is to fund the elite teams,” Shaw says. “Nordic combined is not at the success levels it used to be.” Although the United States nabbed four medals in the 2010 Vancouver Games, the team returned from Sochi empty-handed. In fact, the U.S. men’s highest-ranking finisher—Bill Demong—barely squeaked into the top 25 with a 24th-place finish. (Bryan came in 26th; Taylor, 33rd.) Meanwhile, America’s inaugural slopestyle team snagged six medals, three of them gold.
Without critical USSA funding, the brothers and their teammates scrambled to raise cash to pay for coaches and equipment and were forced to miss key training camps in Europe this summer. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) helped bail the Fletchers and Demong out by continuing to waive their jump-time fees at Howelsen Hill. Since 1914, the club has run the largest Nordic program in the United States, producing 18 Nordic combined Olympic athletes. For the Fletchers, the return to Colorado was something of a homecoming: The pair started skiing with SSWSC when they were four.
As the trio trained and angled for sponsorships, Bryan says the USSA agreed to support the brothers—key 2018 Olympic hopefuls (Demong plans to retire after the 2015 season)—along with their head coach, Dave Jarrett, for one more year. “We felt it was a great way to bridge the situation since they were given such short notice about the decision this year,” Shaw says. The rest of the 2015 team, which is yet to be decided, will work from a $150,000 USSA advance (for coaching and travel) that is to be repaid through fund-raising efforts by May 1. After the 2015 season, though, there’s no promise of future investments, so Taylor’s second income stream—pizza delivery by bike—might also soon become a kind of cross-training.