If you ever talk to someone connected in some way to British skiing about Dave Ryding two things will happen. First, a warm smile will come to their face, a testament to the type of individual he is. The second occurrence will be an almost grimace of sorts. Not out of dislike or anything like that. No, no. Out of frustration, almost an involuntarily reaction from the sheer will inside, wishing Ryding to succeed.
That frustration all came out on Saturday in one collective exhale, as Ryding finally ended 55 years of waiting for a British victory in a World Cup slalom. It was an astonishing, truly emotional moment as Ryding finally got over the hump, the demons who have plagued him throughout his career.
Because you see this isn’t a one-off occurrence. Ryding is a seriously talented skier who, if he is being honest with himself, probably should have more than one World Cup win at the age of 35. Ask skiing fans how close he’s come prior and a wry smile will come to their face as they recall blistering first runs from Ryding, only to see him stumble, straddle or simply fall at the final hurdle when he looked poised for that elusive win.
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‘I never stopped believing’ – Ryding after history-making ski in Kitzbuhel
There were circumstances beyond his control as well of course. He was very unfortunate to be skiing at his peak alongside the legendary Austrian Marcel Hirscher, widely considered to be one of the best skiers of all time, let alone his generation. Between 2013 and 2019 Hirscher won all but one of the Slalom World Cups. And even then that was partly so he could really focus on Giant Slalom to secure the Overall title.
And whilst we’re on Hirscher, it’s the perfect opportunity to tell an incredible anecdote regarding the Austrian and his British counter-part, which helps illustrate just how much the deck was stacked against Ryding. Quite a few years ago a TV company in Austria became enamoured with the story of Ryding and decided to produce a documentary on him. This made its way to Hirscher’s eyes who watched the film, enthralled like the rest of us.
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“It really is inspiring. Hats off to Dave and the story behind this great athlete. I feel very sorry for him that he was not able to take his first two real chances but I’m sure he will win a World Cup race eventually," said Hirscher.
“In Austria as athletes we have everything here. We have a team, we have a federation, we have ski clubs, and we have normal snow. We have perfect conditions and you can ski everywhere. What he showed us is really emotional.
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“I saw a documentary about Dave Ryding on Austrian TV and I was close to tears. I was like ‘really?’ and it gave me goose bumps. It is unbelievable because I’m not sure I would be able to have that love he has. For us it is normal to go skiing and it’s not hard to find snow. To ski on dry slopes is really hard. I mean really!”
But even after Hirscher’s retirement Ryding wasn’t really able to grab the bull by the horns. He picked up an impressive third in Adelboden last January but the 2020-21 season was mostly one of promising starts that eventually fizzled out into disappointment.
There had been an expectation that one of Alexis Pinturault, Clement Noel or Henrik Kristoffersen would ascend in the place of Hirscher but none of them were able to put down markers. In the 2020-21 Slalom there were seven different race winners across eleven races. By contrast across nine Slalom races for the women just four winners. This season the men have had just five Slalom races, all have been won by different riders and of those five winners, three won their maiden Slalom.
What this means is that as we gear up for Beijing in just a couple of weeks' time the door is well and truly open for Ryding to think about an Olympic medal. After all as Ryding said after his win on Saturday, “there’s life in the old dog yet.”
Ryding added that, “I’m 35 now, but I never stopped believing, I never stopped trying.
I always believed I could do it, I always thought I can do this but my races were getting less and less and doubt is always there.
Those that know Ryding have never doubted the talent, only the mental side, whether he could push out the nice and put it all together. On a day that will go down in history for British skiing he managed to do exactly that. With that weight lifted from his shoulders the sky is well and truly the limit for him in Beijing.
On the surface Ryding is a simple Lancastrian lad, he is kind and he is honest, someone who it is easy to warm to and root for. But there is more to Ryding than that. There is an inner steel that drove his unlikely, improbable story, and kept him going even when it looked like the win would never come.
GB Snowsport have always maintained that Ryding’s legacy would be complete, with or without a World Cup win. The fact that he could achieve podiums against such odds was more than enough. Now though? The Rocket has all of us dreaming.
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