Ryding’s reality check is ‘a good thing’ ahead of Beijing

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RYDING HIGH: Dave Ryding (above, centre) celebrates his historic win in Kitzbuehel with Lucas Braathen (left) and Henrik Kristoffersen (right)
RYDING HIGH: Dave Ryding (above, centre) celebrates his historic win in Kitzbuehel with Lucas Braathen (left) and Henrik Kristoffersen (right)

DAVE Ryding admits he has been ‘slapped back to reality’ ahead of next week’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Following his historic alpine World Cup victory at Kitzbuhel last weekend, the Chorley skier was brought crashing back down to earth - not literally - after finishing a lowly 20th place in Schladming.

The 35-year-old admits the chastening experience - which included being beaten by his compatriot and training partner Billy Major for the first time in a top-level race - was probably a timely one as ambitions and expectations continue to rise.

“You always forget how much passion there is out there for the sport, and it’s insane where you see your face,” said Ryding who is a member of Pendle Ski Club.

“I was sent an article from Fiji that was on the front of one of their newspapers. You’re in a little bubble out there on the tour and that’s what gives you the most pride - to see all the emotion that everyone else has.

“Schladming was a slap back to reality. There was a bit of a physical hangover and mentally I was still trying to process everything, and I got some things wrong with my equipment.

“It’s probably a good thing for the Olympics to have that stark reminder that you have to do everything right in the lead-up to the Games, whether it’s my first gym session or making sure you are in the right mindset.”

The reality check also underlined a new pressure Ryding is under going in to his fourth Winter Olympic Games where, suddenly he is consisder a medal contender and everyone knows his story.

In Kitzbuhel, the 35-year-old, Ryding rose from sixth place after the first run of the men’s slalom to finish 0.38 seconds clear of Norway’s Lucas Braathen in second place, sparking raucous celebrations among his support staff and the respect of the skiing world.

“It means more to me than anything when your peers and fellow competitors, whom you race against week in, week out, show their respect for what you’ve achieved,” said Ryding reflecting on the victory.

“This has never been done before by a Brit and they know how hard it is and where I’ve come from. Everybody knows my story now.”

Among those paying tribute was record-breaking American Mikaela Shiffrin, who described Ryding’s achievement as “amazing”, while the US Ski team hailed Ryding for his victory in “incredible fashion”.

Ryding knows the victory will inevitably raise expectations, which he is only too happy to embrace.

“You win a World Cup three weeks before the Olympics and it’s natural for everyone to talk,” said Ryding, whose ninth place in Pyeongchang in 2018 was the best result by a British alpine skier in an Olympics for 30 years.

“Obviously I’ve shown how good I am this year. The pressure and expectation has ramped up but I won’t be defined by an Olympics. I’ve had an amazing career and to win one has taken a weight off my shoulders.

“Who knows – two or three weeks still feels like a long way away. I’ll do my best to keep this old rig in tip-top shape.”

Ryding boasted previous success at Kitzbuhel, having become the first British alpine skier to reach a World Cup podium in 36 years when he took silver in the World Cup in 2017.

And he admitted his timely run underscored the fundamental change in attitude to British snow sports since his first Games in Vancouver in 2010, which started days after the sport’s then domestic governing body, Snowsport GB, was declared bankrupt.

Ryding hopes his success will prove a significant factor in the continued growth of the sport in the UK.

“The whole of the British winter sports scene has undergone a real revolution since my first Winter Olympics, and we’ve finally got to the stage where we have a strong federation,” added Ryding, whose own coffers will be bolstered by a 100,000 euros (£83,715) winner’s cheque from one of the most prestigious events on the alpine circuit.

He added: “For me the important thing is to see the the next generation coming through. You’re judged by what the next generation thinks of you, and we’re certainly not seen as a laughing stock anymore.

“If I can ignite a fire – I still remember watching Alain Baxter in Salt Lake City and the buzz and something inside me that said it was awesome. If I’ve had that effect on another little kid somewhere, then I’m doing my job.”

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