Despite being Great Britain’s leading alpine skier of recent years, slalom racer Dave Ryding is having to navigate a new, albeit welcome, challenge this season.
After five World Cup campaigns without a top-15 finish, Ryding provided signs of encouragement when he bagged himself three in the 2015/2016 competition.
Six races in to this current season however, and the Brit has already zoomed past that mark.
In fact, on just one occasion – a 17th place finish on the technically demanding Val D’Isere course – has he failed to make the top 15, all of which leaves Ryding facing a new pressure.
“Facebook and Twitter goes crazy if I have a good result,” explained the 30-year-old. “I was 15th and 12th in my last races, which before this season, everyone was really happy with, but the expectation is now for these top tens,and 15th is not quite cutting it.”
For a nation that has grown accustomed to enjoying British medal success in summer sports, and increasingly in the winter sphere too, some might be quick to dismiss Ryding’s top-ten and top-15 achievements this season.
But alpine skiing is not a sport Britain traditionally excels in.
Ryding’s season-opening sixth place in Levi, Finland – his personal best World Cup performance to date – was the highest finish for a Brit since Alain Baxter’s fourth place in Are, Sweden, in 2001, while a British World Cup alpine medal has not been won since Konrad Bartelski’s downhill silver in Val Gardena, Italy, over 35 years ago.
“In skiing, because of the way the races work, the best go first and the piste deteriorates from the first guy as the snow gets bumpier,” said Ryding, who has backed up his sixth place with finishes of 17th, 12th, seventh, 15th and 12th.
“You’ve just got to keep working over the years to improve your rankings and that’s what I’m doing again this year.
“Only the top 30 get World Cup points and come back for the second run. That’s when you start to know that you’re doing well.
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the season. I was just aiming for good skiing and maybe to pick up a top ten somewhere.
“It was quite a surprise that I’d managed to do it straight away. It was a wow moment.
“Everyone knows that I’m quite good in Levi, it’s where I scored my first ever World Cup points. So to back it up in the races since, showed that I wasn’t just a one-slope-wonder.
“I think I’m surprising a few people and I’m starting to believe that I am among the best skiers in the world.”
It’s taken Ryding over seven years on the World Cup circuit – not to mention two Winter Olympic appearances, a Europa Cup title and a record-equalling seven British slalom titles – to get to the point of consistently challenging some of the world’s best racers.
But the Brit believes it’s the lessons learned along the way, rather than any specific change this season, which have contributed to the recent upturn in fortunes.
“Two seasons ago I finished the season ranked 31st in the world, I missed the top 30 by one point. It had been my dream since I was a kid to be ranked in the top 30,” he said.
“I was asking what more can I do, I’ve done everything I can and I’ve missed it by a point, can I come back next year and break in there?
“I guess a lot of sports people have that, they are knocking on the door for a while.
“Thankfully my coach was really supportive and pushed me to get back out there and get back training and I’ve never looked back since, really.
"You’ve just got to persevere and keep getting up the next day and keep putting in the training."
Given his current trajectory the signs are promising that Ryding can continue his improvements on the Olympic stage too, after finishing 27th and 17th at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, respectively.
However, Ryding, nicknamed ‘The Rocket’, is adamant Pyeongchang is not even on the radar yet.
“I’ve not even thought about next year yet, all I’m thinking about is the races coming up,” he concluded.
“I’ve had a sixth and a seventh so a podium at World Cup level isn’t a million miles away.
“I don’t know whether I can get one before the end of this season, it’s not really been done by a British skier in so long.
“It’s not just something I can ski down and get. I’m not really focusing on that, I’m trying to get some more top tens.”
His social media followers will no doubt be watching on closely.
By Pippa Field, Sportsbeat 2017
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