How Dave Ryding conquered doubters and the world of slalom skiing

Now king of all he surveys in skiing, Dave Ryding remembers when he was looked down upon.

“In 2013 I started to get some top fives in the Europa Cup and people said, ‘god, I’ve been beaten by the Brit again,’” he recalled.

“One of the top Austrians at the time said he actually retired because he got beat by me. Now look.”

The Rocket would have ended a few careers in Kitzbühel, where he roared to Great Britain’s first-ever alpine World Cup gold.

Twelve days before the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, Ryding soared from sixth to first with runs of 51.40 and 49.86 for a 1:41.26 winning total.

It was his fourth World Cup medal, third in slalom, and his nation’s first top step in 55 years of racing on the sport’s top-level circuit.

The outpouring of joy at Ryding’s triumph tells you all you need to know about how he has quashed the lazy prejudice that heralded his early time at the top.

“I’m astounded and impressed by Dave’s skiing, but also not surprised,” Mikaela Shiffrin, who with 11 World Championship medals and three Olympic podium finishes to her name knows a thing or two about alpine skiing, told Eurosport.

“He’s been one of my favourite slalom skiers for years now.”

Ryding really is the opposite of an overnight success. Skiing demands everything and he has given it all that and more.

“I trained my whole life to get to the top 30 in the world and I got there at 28,” he said. “I've worked my whole life for it, so why not carry on?

“I've learned the commitment and now it's just a way of life. Don't get me wrong, some mornings, I can't be arsed in the gym.

“But I just roll out the door and I never miss a session. Never, never, never skip anything.”

Last season brought his second slalom podium at Adelboden in January, but it wasn’t a result that set him up for a storming campaign.

Ryding was hampered by back problems that led him to miss five weeks of training, while he competed and struggled at the World Championships in the midst of that period.

His serviceman also tore his ACL, leading to a ‘nightmare’ end of the season. “Everything fell apart,” he said.

“I remember standing on the podium at Adelboden just thinking ‘you know what, I might never win one of these but just to be back here is amazing.’”

How wrong he was.

The summer brought a reset and for the first time in ten years a training group, as he began working alongside fellow Brits Billy Major and Laurie Taylor, the self-styled ‘Queen’s Men.’

“If you don't have anyone at the top, the next generation has nothing to aspire to,” said Ryding. “And then I believe that means fewer will come through.

“Hopefully in the generations after me, we will have three or four.”

The last two Olympic slalom champions - Sweden’s Andre Myhrer and Austria’s Mario Matt - were 35 and 34 years old respectively when they won gold.

Ryding will hope a third slalom gold medallist in their mid-30s is written in the stars and that his Olympic fortunes continue on the same trajectory.

In PyeongChang he finished ninth, Team GB’s best result in the event for 30 years, having placed 17th in Sochi and 27th in Vancouver.

“I don't define myself by the Olympics but I would love to cap it off with a good Olympic result," he said.

"I don't take the World Cup as any less than the Olympics, I treat every race as my Olympics and do or die, life or death.

"Thinking about it, that probably isn't the best thing, because you put too much pressure on yourself!

"When I'm feeling good, I don't feel pressure because I'm expecting to do well. But you can't be at your best for the whole season and you're going to have dips.

"I've just got to go in the start gate and go again, because that's what all the top skiers do."

Sportsbeat 2022