With The Start Of The Nordic Combined Season, A Young Roster Gives Hope For The Future
by Lisa Costantini
Ben Loomis competes in the individual Gundersen large hill/10km ski jumping trial round during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 15, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
When the U.S. Nordic combined team left the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, they were already looking to the future.
After four-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher, 31 — the most senior member of the team —retired after competing in China, the average age on the team dropped to 22. That nine-member team is young and hungry, with their sights set on the Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026.
“We had a pretty solid result this winter in Beijing, but for most of us, 2026 is our ultimate goal,” said two-time Olympian Ben Loomis, 24. “As a team, that was our best team event since 2010 as well as the best individual result. So, we were all happy with it.”
In the team event at the Beijing Games, the U.S. quartet of Fletcher, Loomis, Jasper Good and Jared Shumate had an overall sixth-place finish in the men’s large hill/4x5km competition. It was the best finish for the U.S. men since they also finished sixth at Sochi 2014. Fletcher was on that team as well.
Team USA also had three top-25 finishes in the Nordic combined large hill in Beijing, with Shumate and Loomis setting personal bests.
“The goal for 2026 is to bring home a medal,” Loomis shared.
If they make it to the podium in Milan Cortina in 2026, it will be the first medal for U.S. Nordic combined since the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
As one of the four returning Olympians, Loomis, along with Good are members of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). The program allows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military. Shumate and Stephen Schumann make up the remaining Olympians.
As the name suggests, Nordic combined combines two sports: ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It has been contested at the Winter Olympics since the first Games in 1924 in Chamonix and has been included in every Games since.
The U.S. has four total medals in the sport, winning them all at the 2010 Vancouver Games, taking gold and silver in the individual large hill, and silver in the normal hill and the team event.
The primary drivers of the team back then had been in the sport for well over a decade. The current U.S. team is young in comparison but is building toward the podium.
“We’ve had a pretty core team for a few years now,” Loomis said, “which is nice to have consistency with our team and coaching staff.” After Fletcher retired in the spring, they have been “working on building as a group and getting more experience.”
Lately, that group has also included the women's team.
“For the U.S. team, we work pretty closely with the women’s team,” shared Loomis, who started the sport at age five, following in his older brother’s footsteps. “Their competitions are always a part of ours, or with us, so it’s cool that we’re able to train together and compete together.”
Annika Malacinski competes in the ski jumping leg of the women's Nordic combined Gundersen normal hill HS106/5.0Km during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Feb. 27, 2021 in Oberstdorf, Germany.
The U.S. men’s national team is set to start their world cup season on November 25 in Ruka, Finland, with the large hill event. As that is a men-only event, the U.S. women will start their season the following week in Lillehammer, Norway on December 2, where both the men and women compete.
The U.S. women’s national team is made up of three women. However, with Tess Arnone coming off an ankle injury, it will only be Annika Malacinski and Alexa Brabec competing in Norway.
“It feels like forever since I've competed on snow,” Malacinski said, who started ski jumping just five years ago. “I'm just really excited for this upcoming season and feel that I have a lot of potential.”
Growing up with a ski instructor father and Finnish mother, Malacinski has been on skis since she was old enough to walk. Her younger brother, Niklas joins her on the national team where she was named in 2018. At 21, she is the oldest athlete on the women’s side of the U.S. team. The siblings, hailing from Steamboat Springs, CO, have their sights set on Milan Cortina. But as of now, women Nordic combined athletes have not been given the green light to compete in 2026, making it the only sport not to have gender equity.
“I’m still looking at 2026,” the older Malacinski admitted. “I think we have a slim chance, but it’s a chance. I don’t think I’m going to give up on 2026 until 2026 actually happens.”
Until then, she said, she tries not to forget that there are other competitions that need her focus. “I’m trying to keep my mindset on just being the best in my field and the competitions that are coming up,” she said.
Having been on the national team since 2016, Loomis has seen how much the sport has grown, and the increasing numbers on the women’s side.
“There’s been a ton of progress,” he shared. Helping the movement has been the support of both the federation and national teams.
“The numbers have grown and the level that the women are at now compared to a couple of years ago is pretty awesome to see how much they’ve improved.”
Seeing the sport grow is one of the main reasons why Malacinski does what she does. Last season, she made history by competing in the first-ever women’s Nordic combined world cup and world championship.
“I can’t wait for the younger girls to step up,” she said. “I think they hold a lot of potential and I want to see the sport grow. That’s why I’m in it.
“I want to show women that anything they put their minds to they can do.”
Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than a decade, including for the International Olympic Committee. She is a freelance writer who has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.