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Members of the US Steamboat Ski Team are tired and happy at the end of the 2021 Men’s Nordic Combined season

Niklas Malacinski, a 17-year-old Nordic Combined national team member from Steamboat Springs, made his World Cup debut in Val di Fiemme, Italy, last weekend and landed the best jump of all members of the American team. He finished 41st overall in the first event. (Photo by Sandra Volk)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Just minutes after landing in the United States after three months in Europe, Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Niklas Malacinski received a burger. On his way home to Colorado, the 17-year-old met family friends at the airport, sat down and ate a classic, greasy American burger.

Next appointment: rest. Malacinski will spend the next week or two relaxing and recuperating after a long ski season.

“I think it was necessary to come home. I had a long and successful season. I think it’s better to go home and rest.

Malacinski’s season ended in Nizhny Tagil, Russia last weekend, where he earned an excellent 18th place in the final Continental Cup event. Malacinski finished 12th in the Continental Cup standings, the highest ranked American.

He stepped onto the podium at Park City to start the season in December, earning him a place in the World Cup events at Val di Fiemme in Italy. He finished 41st and 44th in the individual events, not bad for such a young competitor. He also placed in the top 10 at another Continental Cup event in Finland ahead of the World Junior Championships in Lahti, Finland. The Junior Worlds have been his main focus all year, but he was unfortunately disqualified.

Niklas Malacinski finished third, fifth and sixth in three Continental Cup events Dec. 11-13 in Park City, Utah. (Courtesy of Niklas Malacinski)

“At first it was definitely a surprise, my first breakthrough,” Malacinski said. “I was surprised with the results at Park City which led me to the World Cup in Italy. My main focus this season was the Junior World Championships, which unfortunately I was disqualified from. went very well, but I still have two years left of the world junior championships.

Malacinski was also named to the World Championship team where he helped the American men to ninth place in the team event in Germany.

Niklas Malacinski, a 17-year-old US ski team member from Steamboat Springs, landed his best jump of the weekend at 98 meters in the team sprint event. He made his World Cup debut in Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Photo by Essi Kenttala)

“He is a very tired boy. He’s been awesome all winter,” said US Ski Team member and Steamboat native Taylor Fletcher. “At 17 he was going there every weekend and constantly fighting for good results in the Continental Cup. He has this fire and drive which is very cool to see. He definitely started challenging some of the other kids in the team.

Next year, Malacinski has the same goals in mind. Improve the Continental Cup, maybe make a World Cup start and focus on the Junior Worlds. However, he has a goal in 2022 which he is not yet ready to deem unrealistic.

“I dreamed of going to the Olympics.”

The Olympic team will be announced in January ahead of the games which are due to start Feb. 4 in Beijing. Malacinski has tons of big competitors ahead of him in line for the team. Fletcher is likely a shoemaker, as is Steamboat’s Jasper Good, who both competed in the 2018 Olympics. Wisconsin’s Ben Loomis also competed in the last Olympics and Jared Shumate, Grant Andrews and Stephen Schumann will all be battling for spots. on the Olympic team next winter.

At 30, Fletcher is a bit older than the rest of the team. He is the veteran of the group and has had his ups and downs in the sport since starting his career at Howelsen Hill.

This final season offered a glimpse into the past of the American Nordic Combined, as well as into the future. Seeing his teammates having such successful seasons reminded him of when he was younger and looking for the ‘wolf pack’ of Johnny Spillane, Billy Demong, Carl Van Loan, Jed Hinkley.

“They all worked together and pushed each other year after year,” Fletcher said. “We’ve lost quite a few people, but now what we’re seeing is a new emergence of an upcoming group: Grant, Jasper, Jared, Niklas and a few others. They’re going to be there for a while. I don’t see any of them pull the plug over the next four years. We still have a lot of work to do on the springboard, but I’ve seen some progress this year and it’s promising.

Taylor Fletcher finished 26th and 24th in World Cup competition in Ramsau, Austria on December 19-20. (Photo by Romina Eggert)

Fletcher also saw a change in himself as he started having fun again and gaining confidence. He is already one of the fastest cross-country skiers in the world, finishing ninth in the World Cup Best Skier trophy standings. He has one more meet this weekend in Klingenthal, Germany, but sits 38th overall heading into those events.

After that, he’ll return home to Park City, relax, give his body a break, hopefully get a shot, and then get back to training in mid-April.

“I really focus on the jumps,” Fletcher said. “I will work closely with Chris Gilbertson to get where I need to go.”